2021 Horror Movie Hub

There’s no doubt about it: Horror movies are hot right now. Here’s a list of horror flicks with releases in 2021. They’re all here, whether they are movies with theatrical releases, films that went directly to video, or movies that are only available on streaming services or TV networks. (Movies that were originally released before 2021 and were re-released in 2021 are not included.) Movies that were reviewed on Culture Mix get a featured spotlight, while all the rest of the movies are listed below.

For the purposes of this list, “horror movies” are defined as movies that are intended to be scary, which are often different from crime movies. For example, “Halloween” is a horror movie. “Scarface” is not. As a helpful guide, the movies on this list are identified by the subgenres in horror.

NOTE: This list is only for movies released in the United States. The availability of a movie on this list might vary outside the U.S.

Horror Movies of 2021: Culture Mix Reviews

The Arbors (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
Bloody Hell (Photo courtesy of Entertainment Squad/The Horror Collective)
Cactus Jack (Photo courtesy of Cactus Jack Film LLC)
The Devil Below (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Fear of Rain (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
Jakob’s Wife (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder)
The Night (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
Paranormal Prison (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
Saint Maud (Photo courtesy of A24)
The Seventh Day (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
The Sinners (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)
The Stylist (Photo courtesy of Method Media/Sixx Tape Productions)
The Vigil (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
The Village in the Woods (Photo courtesy of 4Digital Media)
Witch Hunt (Photo courtesy of Global Screen/Fearious)

Complete List of Horror Movies Released in 2021

  • sci-fi horror = futuristic science or outer-space aliens
  • slasher horror = killer humans or wild animals
  • supernatural horror  = evil spirits
  • vampire horror = killer vampires
  • zombie horror = killer zombies

The Arbors — sci-fi horror

The Banishing —supernatural horror

A Banquet — supernatural horror

Bloody Hell — slasher horror

Boys From County Hell — vampire horror

Cactus Jack — slasher horror

Candyman (2021) — supernatural horror

Castle Freak — supernatural horror

Dementer — slasher horror

Demonic (2021) — supernatural horror

The Devil Below (formerly titled Shookum Hills) — supernatural horror

The Djinn — supernatural horror

Dreamcatcher (2021) — slasher horror

Fear of Rain — slasher horror

Fried Barry — sci-fi horror

For the Sake of Vicious — slasher horror

Funny Face — slasher horror

Getaway — slasher horror

A Ghost Waits — supernatural horror

Grizzly II: Revenge — slasher horror

Held — slasher horror

Honeydew — slasher horror

Hunted (2021) — slasher horror

In Search of Darkness: Part II — documentary horror

Jakob’s Wife — vampire horror

Killer Among Us — slasher horror

Making Monsters — supernatural horror

A Nightmare Wakes — supernatural horror

Necropath — slasher horror

The Night (2021) — supernatural horror

Paranormal Prison — supernatural horror

P.G.: Psycho Goreman — supernatural horror

Phobias (2021) — slasher horror

The Power (2021) — supernatural horror

The Queen of Black Magic — supernatural horror

A Quiet Place Part II — sci-fi horror

The Reckoning (2021) — supernatural horror

The Resort — slasher horror

Saint Maud — slasher horror

Seance (2021) — supernatural horror

Separation (2021) — supernatural horror

The Seventh Day (2021) — supernatural horror

The Sinners (2021) (formerly titled The Color Rose) — slasher horror

Slaxx — supernatural horror

Sorry I Killed You — slasher horror

Sound of Violence — supernatural horror

The Spine of Night — supernatural horror

Spiral (2021) — supernatural horror

Spoor — supernatural horror

Stay Out of the F**king Attic — supernatural horror

The Stylist — slasher horror

The Toll — supernatural horror

Too Late — supernatural horror

Unearth — supernatural horror

The Unholy (2021) — supernatural horror

The Vigil (2021) — supernatural horror

The Village in the Woods — supernatural horror

Violation (2021) — slasher horror

Werewolves Within — supernatural horror

Willy’s Wonderland — slasher horror

Witch Hunt (2021) — supernatural horror

Wrong Turn (2021) — slasher horror

Zombie Bro — zombie horror

Review: ‘Moffie,’ starring Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey, Stefan Vermaak and Hilton Pelser

April 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kai Luke Brummer and Ryan de Villiers in “Moffie” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Moffie”

Directed by Oliver Hermanus

English, Dutch and Afrikaans with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1981 to 1983 in South Africa, the dramatic film “Moffie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) who are mostly in or connected to South African’s military .

Culture Clash: A closeted gay teenager in the South African army hides is sexuality from everyone except for a fellow soldier who forms an emotional connection with him.

Culture Audience: “Moffie” will appeal primarily to people interested in raw and sometimes hard-to-watch stories about apartheid-era South African culture and stories about closeted LGBTQ people.

Kai Luke Brummer in “Moffie” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Moffie” unflinchingly but sometimes unevenly tells a story that’s rarely been told in a movie: What it was like to be a closeted gay white male teenage soldier in 1980s South Africa, were homosexuality was illegal at the time. The movie is an often-brutal portrayal of hatred, fear and violent bullying.

Therefore, people should know before watching “Moffie” that it’s a very triggering film for anyone who’s likely to have negative mental-health reactions to seeing these issues portrayed on screen. For people who can handle the harsh realities presented in the movie, “Moffie” might still be a hard film to watch, but its intention is to not gloss over the damage caused by homophobia and other bigotry.

Directed by South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus, “Moffie” is based on André-Carl van der Merwe’s 2006 novel of the same title. The novel was inspired by van der Merwe’s own experiences as a closeted gay member of the South African military in the 1980s. “Moffie” director Hermanus and Jack Sidey co-wrote the adapted screenplay.

The word “moffie” is a derogatory Afrikaans term for a gay male. In the production notes for “Moffie,” Hermanus (who is openly gay) explains why he chose to keep this title for the movie: “Any gay man living in South Africa knows this word and has a relationship with it. It’s a weapon that has been used against us for so long. I felt a strong pull to exploring my own history with this word which ended up being a scene in the film and I think it was the want to denuclearize, reform this word that was at the heart of my decision to make this film.”

The story’s main character is Nicholas van der Swart (played by Kai Luke Brummer), a sensitive and kind 18-year-old who has comes from a loving home in an unnamed South African city, where he lives with his parents Peet van der Swart (played by Remano De Beer) and Suzie van der Swart (played by Barbara-Marié Immelman), who are very proud of their only child. However, Nicholas has a big secret that he hasn’t told anyone out of fear: He’s gay.

The story takes place from 1981 to 1983, during South Africa’s apartheid years, when the white citizens who were in the minority were in government power and made it legal to discriminate against anyone in South Africa was wasn’t white. During this time in the early 1980s, the South African military began operations to fight against Angola at the Angolan/South African border.

Angola was backed by the Soviet Union, and South Africa’s military attacks were ostensibly to fight against Communism. However, South Africa’s military operations in these Angolan conflicts were also used as excuses to slaughter innocent black people. In South Africa during this time, any white male over the age of 16 was required to serve in the military for at least two years.

The beginning of the film shows Nicholas and his family having a send-off party for him. During the party, Nicholas’ father Peet takes him aside and gives Nicholas a nudie magazine. Peet smirks as he tells his son that the magazine will help Nicholas get through the long stretches of time in the military when Nicholas won’t be in contact with any women. Nicholas takes the magazine and pretends to be pleased with this gift, even though he knows deep down he’s not going to use it in the way his father intended.

“Moffie” doesn’t get into specifics about how Nicholas personally felt about apartheid. He tends to be quiet and doesn’t express any political views during the story. When he sees racism firsthand, Nicholas says and does nothing to stop it.

For example, there’s a scene where some fellow army recruits harass and humiliate an elderly black man (played by Israel Ngqawuza), who’s waiting at a train station. The bigots use the “n” word and throw food that splatters all over the man. Nicholas watches this hate crime as if it’s something he’s used to seeing because this blatant racism is allowed in apartheid South Africa.

The expression on Nicholas’ face seems to suggest that he has empathy for the black man who’s the target of this hate, but Nicholas is outnumbered by his racist peers, and he feels powerless to say and do anything. It won’t be long before Nicholas will experience his own bullying, for a different reason. This movie’s scenes are often a barrage of toxic masculinity. But the point is to show that even with “white male privilege” in South Africa, some white men faced their own types of persecution if they were perceived to be effeminate or not heterosexual in any way.

The new recruits take a train together to boot camp. Nicholas shares a cabin with a young man who’s around the same age. His name is Michael Sachs (played by Matthew Vey), and he’s a lot more confident and outgoing than Nicholas. Nicholas and Michael become fast friends. Their friendship endures even through some of the most brutal hazing that these new soldiers have to endure as part of their military training.

On their first day of boot camp, the recruits are forced to strip to their underwear and are bullied into submission by the commanding officers. The commanding officers don’t hesitate to punch the recruits, shove their faces in dirt, and call them all sorts of vicious and derogatory names if the recruits don’t pass some real or imagined test of their compliance. A commanding officer named Sergeant Brand (played by Hilton Pelser) is the most sadistic and hate-filled of all the military officers at this boot camp.

In case it wasn’t clear how Sergeant Brand feels about certain subjects, he shouts to the new recruits that this army won’t tolerate Communism, laziness, homosexuality and anyone who shows sympathy to black people. (He uses derogatory terms for black people and gay people in this tirade.) Sergeant Brand also expresses his share of misogyny, as he frequently uses the “c” word (a gender slur against women that rhymes with stunt) to insult any recruit who does something to anger him.

The physical and verbal abuse doesn’t just come from the commanding officers. There’s plenty of it among the recruits. Anyone who is perceived as not fitting into macho heterosexual white Christian male standards becomes a target for the abuse. Nicholas, who comes from a sheltered environment, experiences culture shock and has to adapt quickly.

A recruit named Snyman (played by Wynand Ferreira) is the biggest bully among these new soldiers. When Snyman sees that Nicholas has brought a photo of his father with him, Snyman takes it as a sign that Nicholas has gay or “sissy” tendencies. Snyman steals the photo from Nicholas and taunts him.

Michael sticks up for Nicholas and calls Snyman a name. A brawl breaks out, but it’s eventually smoothed over when Nicholas offers his nudie magazine to Snyman in exchange for Snyman returning the photo of Nicholas’ father to Nicholas. However, Nicholas is now fully aware that he can’t show any signs of being gay to these homophobic bullies or else he could be in physical danger.

Nicholas also sees what happens when anyone in the South African military is suspected of being gay. One day, two recruits named Baxter (played by Cody Mountain) and Hilton (played by Luke Tyler) are forced to stand in front of everyone else, while the commanding officer hurls homophobic insults at them. Nicholas overhears from the other recruits that Baxter and Hilton were rumored to be caught kissing each other in a bathroom stall.

It’s also the first time that Nicholas hears about Ward 22, which is a psychiatric ward that military people are sent to if they are suspected of being gay. Based on how Ward 22 is talked about in this group of people, it’s worse than a prison. Baxter and Hilton soon disappear from the recruit living quarters. Everyone assumes that Baxter and Hilton have been sent to Ward 22 as punishment.

One very cold evening, when the recruits are training how to make and sleep in foxholes, Nicholas finds himself alone with a fellow recruit named Dylan Stassen (played by Ryan de Villiers), who is handsome and confident among his peers. Dylan notices that Nicholas is shivering, so he tells Nicholas that he can warm up next to him. At first Nicholas is hesitant, but when he sees that no one else is looking, he takes Dylan up on his offer.

Dylan and Nicholas lie next to each other in the foxhole in a platonic manner. But when they make steady eye contact, they know they’re attracted to each other. And so, when Dylan makes the first move and starts to caress Nicholas’ arm, Nicholas doesn’t pull away or tell him to stop. It’s too risky for Dylan and Nicholas to spend the night sleeping next to each other, but now they both know that they’re attracted to each other.

Over time, Dylan and Nicholas keep their budding romance a secret. They go to such extremes that Dylan and Nicholas end up brawling with each other in a macho display to fit in with their peers. This knock-down, drag-out fight happens at the barracks when the recruits play a “spin the bottle” game that’s based on brawling, not kissing. If the bottle points to a person, that person has to fight someone.

When it’s unlucky Dylan’s turn to fight and pick a sparring partner, he’s reluctant and makes a half-hearted attempt with one of the recruits. Dylan is then taunted by some of the bullies in the group. But then, Nicholas then steps and challenges Dylan to the fight. Why would Nicholas do that?

The psychology behind this thinking is because the recruits are aware that Dylan and Nicholas have become closer, Nicholas is paranoid that people will suspect him and Dylan of being gay. And when Nicholas sees that Dylan is reluctant to fight someone and is possibly going to be labeled a “sissy” or “gay,” Nicholas over-compensates by being overly aggressive in his fight with Dylan. In self-defense and also because he’s angry over this attack from a friend, Dylan fights back just as hard.

Nicholas and Dylan’s fight is a turning point in their relationship, because it sends a clear message to Dylan that Nicholas is going to do whatever it takes to stay closeted in this environment. In private, Nicholas attempts to smooth things over with Dylan by asking him not to take the fight too personally. Dylan seems to understand, but something happens that will test Nicholas and Dylan’s relationship even more.

“Moffie” shows some combat scenes at the Angolan border, but most of the turmoil in the movie is about Nicholas coming to terms with his sexuality and the self-loathing that he has because he knows he’s living a lie. Nicholas is a stoic person who doesn’t open up to people easily. He’s the type of person who would rather blend in rather than stand out. In fact, later in the movie, when he ends up having a conversation with

Not all of “Moffie” is depressing gloom and doom. The most light-hearted moments come when Nicholas spends time with Michael, who seems to have no idea that Nicholas is gay. (Nicholas hides his sexuality very well.) They like to joke around and sometimes trade mild insults with each other.

For example, one day, while they have some free time to hang out by themselves, Nicholas and Michael see some soldiers nearby walking robot-like in military line. Michael tells Nicholas, “Do me a favor. If I look that, shoot me in the head.” Nicholas replies, “Why should I? You know how to shoot!” Michael exclaims in response: “Bastard!”

Moffie also becomes friends with another recruit named Oscar Fourie (played by Stefan Vermaak), who’s even more outgoing and gregarious than Michael. But just like Michael, Oscar doesn’t suspect that Nicholas is gay. There’s a scene where all three pals hang out at a bar, where Michael and Oscar think that they all have the goal of finding women to flirt with or more. This scene is also a pivotal moment in the movie because of something that Moffie finds out in a conversation with Oscar.

“Moffie” doesn’t tell Nicholas’ story in a consistent manner. There are some parts of the movie that are a monotonous drag, while other parts of the movie have almost sensory overload with all the violent abuse. If the movie were a painting, it would be more like a mural instead of a portrait, with some parts more scattershot than others.

The one part of the movie that significantly shows Nicholas’ life before he enlisted in the military is a flashback scene where Nicholas, who’s about 15 or 16 years old, is spending some time with his parents at a public recreation area with a swimming pool. When Nicholas goes into the shower area, he stares at another naked teenager in a shower.

A man (played by Jaco van Niekerk) walks into the shower area, sees Nicholas staring at the naked teen, and immediately gets angry at Nicholas. He accuses Nicholas of being a sexual predator and drags him to the manager’s office to report Nicholas. The man lies and says that he also saw Nicholas masturbating while staring at another boy. Nicholas denies this accusation, while the man rants about how Nicholas should be thrown out and banned because his own sons and other boys in the area. The angry father also says that he and his family regularly go to this recreational area and he threatens to boycott it if something isn’t done about Nicholas.

Nicholas’ parents find out what’s happening, which leads to the angry man getting into an argument with them. Nicholas’ father denies that Nicholas is gay or did anything as perverted as being a masturbating voyeur in a public shower area. The confrontation is bad enough that the man and Nicholas’ father get into a fist fight before his parents quickly decide to leave with Nicholas.

As humiliating as this experience must have been for Nicholas, the movie could have used more insight into other formative experiences that had coming to terms with his sexuality as a teenager. For example, what happened when Nicholas and his parents got home? Most viewers could assume that they never talked about this incident again, but what if they did? What was said? And how did what his parent say to him in private affect how he viewed himself as a person?

There are huge, missing gaps in Nicholas’ personal history that needed more explanation. Did he ever date any girls out of peer pressure and to hide his sexuality? What are his interests outside of the military? Throughout much of the movie, Nicholas is really a blank slate of repressed emotions and a vague background.

Based on the way he interacts with Dylan, Nicholas has never been in love with a man before and is possibly a gay virgin. At one point in the story, Dylan gives Nicholas a light romantic kiss on the lips. It’s very likely that Dylan was the first man Nicholas ever kissed in a romantic way, but viewers will never find out.

On the plus side, Brummer gives a very good performance of a man who is going through silent agony and has to pretend to the world that he’s happy and well-adjusted. Because Nicholas isn’t much of a talker, his facial expressions and body language are the best ways that viewers who pay attention can figure out how he must be feeling inside. And because Brummer skillfully shows of these non-verbal cues, “Moffie” is often a heart-wrenching film to watch.

Writer/director Hermanus made very good casting choices in the movie, because all the cast members (who are a mix of professional actors and non-professional actors) are believable in their roles. Some people might gripe that “Moffie” doesn’t address issues of racism enough. However, the movie is told from the perspective a young white man in apartheid South Africa. When people aren’t the targets of racism, they tend not to think about it very much. In that regard, it’s absolutely realistic that Nicholas, considering who he is, would be more concerned about homophobia than racism.

If there is any throughline to this narrative, it’s that the people who tend to be homophobic also tend to be bigoted in other ways too, including when it comes to race and/or religion. Bullying and bigoted attacks can cause damage that’s not always visible. And that’s why even though some viewers of “Moffie” might not like how the movie ends, the ending is realistic of how people who’ve been wounded by bigotry have different ways of trying to heal.

IFC Films released “Moffie” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 9, 2021.

Movie and TV Reviews

SXSW Film Festival Spotlight

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil (Photo courtesy of OBB Media)
The Fallout (Photo by Kristen Correll)
Hysterical (Photo courtesy of FX)
Jakob’s Wife (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder)
Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free (Photo courtesy of Tom Petty Legacy, LLC/Warner Music Group)
Witch Hunt (Photo courtesy of Global Screen/Fearious)

Reviews for New Movies Released March 5 – April 16, 2021

The Affair (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
The Arbors (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
Boogie (Photo by David Giesbrecht/Focus Features)
City of Lies (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)
Come True (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
Coming 2 America (Photo by Quantrell D. Colbert/Paramount Pictures/Amazon Prime Video)
The Courier (Photo by Liam Daniel/Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
Dark Web: Cicada 3301 (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
The Devil Below (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Enforcement (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
Enhanced (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Godzilla vs. Kong (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures)
Gunda (Photo courtesy of Neon)
Long Weekend (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)
The Man Who Sold His Skin (Photo courtesy Tanit Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Martha: A Picture Story (Photo by Michael Latham)
Moffie (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
My Salinger Year (Photo by Philippe Bosse/IFC Films)
Nina Wu (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)
Nobody (Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures)
Quo Vadis, Aida? (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)
Raya and the Last Dragon (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios)
The Seventh Day (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Six Minutes to Midnight (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (Image courtesy of Paramount Animation)
Stray (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
The Stylist (Photo courtesy of Method Media/Sixx Tape Productions)
The Truffle Hunters (Photo by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw/Sony Pictures Classics)
Trust (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Voyagers (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
Wojnarowicz (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Photo courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Complete List of Reviews

1BR — horror

2/1 — drama

2 Graves in the Desert — drama

2 Hearts — drama

2 Minutes of Fame — comedy

5 Years Apart — comedy

9to5: The Story of a Movement — documentary

12 Hour Shift — horror

17 Blocks — documentary

37 Seconds — drama

76 Days — documentary

The 420 Movie (2020) — comedy

2040 — documentary

7500 — drama

Aamis — drama

Abe — drama

Advocate — documentary

The Affair (2021) (formerly titled The Glass Room) — drama

After Class (formerly titled Safe Spaces) — comedy/drama

After Parkland — documentary

After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News — documentary

AKA Jane Roe — documentary

Algorithm: Bliss — sci-fi/horror

All Day and a Night — drama

All I Can Say — documentary

All In: The Fight for Democracy — documentary

All My Life — drama

All Roads to Pearla (formerly titled Sleeping in Plastic) — drama

Almost Love (also titled Sell By) — comedy/drama

Alone (2020) (starring Jules Willcox) — horror

Alone (2020) (starring Tyler Posey) — horror

Amazing Grace — documentary

An American Pickle — comedy

American Street Kid — documentary

American Woman (2020) — drama

Ammonite — drama

Amulet — horror

And Then We Danced — drama

Antebellum — horror

Anthony — drama

Apocalypse ’45 — documentary

The Apollo — documentary

The Arbors — sci-fi/horror

The Argument — comedy

Artemis Fowl — fantasy

The Artist’s Wife — drama

Ask for Jane — drama

Ask No Questions — documentary

The Assistant — drama

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal — documentary

Athlete A — documentary

Attack of the Murder Hornets — documentary

Baby God — documentary

Babysplitters — comedy

Babyteeth — drama

Bacurau — drama

Bad Boys for Life — action

Bad Education (2020) — drama

Bad Therapy (formerly titled Judy Small) — comedy/drama

Banana Split — comedy

Banksy and the Rise of Outlaw Art — documentary

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar — comedy

Beanpole — drama

Beastie Boys Story — documentary

Becoming — documentary

Behind You — horror

Beneath Us — horror

Big Time Adolescence — comedy/drama

The Big Ugly — drama

Billie (2020) — documentary

Bill & Ted Face the Music — sci-fi/comedy

The Binge — comedy

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) — action

Black Bear — drama

Blackbird (2020) — drama

Black Box (2020) — horror

Black Is King — musical

Black Magic for White Boys — comedy

Blessed Child — documentary

Blithe Spirit (2021) — comedy

Blood and Money — drama

Blood on Her Name — drama

Bloodshot (2020) — sci-fi/action

Bloody Hell — horror

Blow the Man Down — drama

Blue Story — drama

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island — horror

Body Cam — horror

Boogie — drama

The Booksellers — documentary

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm — comedy

The Boys (first episode) — action

Brahms: The Boy II — horror

Breaking Fast — comedy

Breaking News in Yuba County — comedy

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists — documentary

The Broken Hearts Gallery — comedy

Brothers by Blood (formerly titled The Sound of Philadelphia) — drama

Browse — drama

Buffaloed — comedy

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn — documentary

Burden (2020) — drama

Burning Cane — drama

Burn It All — drama

The Burnt Orange Heresy — drama

Cactus Jack — horror

Cagefighter — drama

Calendar Girl — documentary

The Call of the Wild (2020) — live-action/animation

A Call to Spy — drama

Call Your Mother — documentary

Cane River — drama

Capone — drama

Carmilla — drama

Castle in the Ground — drama

Centigrade — drama

Changing the Game — documentary

Chasing the Present — documentary

Chick Fight — comedy

Children of the Sea — animation

Chop Chop — horror

Circus of Books — documentary

City of Lies — drama

The Clearing (2020) — horror

Clementine — drama

The Climb (2020) — comedy/drama

Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: Contact Has Begun — documentary

Clover — drama

Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert — documentary

CODA — comedy/drama

Coded Bias (formerly titled Code for Bias) — documentary

Coffee & Kareem — comedy

Collective — documentary

Color Out of Space — sci-fi/horror

Come as You Are (2020)  — comedy

Come Play — horror

Come to Daddy — horror

Come True — sci-fi/drama

Coming 2 America — comedy

Console Wars — documentary

The Cordillera of Dreams — documentary

Count Basie: Through His Own Eyes — documentary

The Courier (2021) (formerly titled Ironbark) — drama

The Craft: Legacy — horror

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words — documentary

Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine — documentary

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution — documentary

Crisis (2021) — drama

Critical Thinking — drama

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan — documentary

The Croods: A New Age — animation

Crown Vic — drama

CRSHD — comedy

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw — horror

Cut Throat City — drama

Da 5 Bloods — drama

Daddy Issues (2020) — comedy

Dads — documentary

Dangerous Lies — drama

Dara of Jasenovac — drama

The Dark Divide — drama

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 — action/comedy

Dave Not Coming Back — documentary

A Day in the Life of America — documentary

Days of Rage: The Rolling Stones’ Road to Altamont — documentary

Days of the Whale — drama

A Deadly Legend — horror

Dear Santa — documentary

Decade of Fire — documentary

The Deeper You Dig — horror

The Delicacy — documentary

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil — documentary

Denise Ho — Becoming the Song — documentary

Desolation Center — documentary

Desperados — comedy

The Devil Below (formerly titled Shookum Hills) — horror

Devil’s Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge — horror

Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo — documentary

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy — documentary

Disappearance at Clifton Hill — drama

Disclosure (2020) — documentary

Diving With Dolphins — documentary

The Dog Doc — documentary

Dolittle — live-action/animation

Dolphin Island — drama

Dolphin Reef — documentary

Do Not Reply — horror

Don’t Look Back (2020) (formerly titled Good Samaritan) — horror

The Doorman (2020) — action

Dosed — documentary

Downhill — comedy

Dreamland (2020) (starring Margot Robbie) — drama

Driven to Abstraction — documentary

Driveways — drama

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America — documentary

Duty Free — documentary

Easy Does It — comedy

Elephant (2020) — documentary

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things — documentary

Embattled — drama

Emma (2020) — comedy/drama

The Emoji Story (formerly titled Picture Character) — documentary

End of Sentence — drama

Enforcement (formerly titled Shorta) — drama

Enhanced (2021) (also titled Mutant Outcasts) — sci-fi/action

Enola Holmes —drama

Entwined (2020) — horror

Epicentro — documentary

The Etruscan Smile (also titled Rory’s Way) — drama

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — comedy

Evil Eye (2020) — horror

Exit Plan — drama

Extraction (2020) — action

Falling (2021) — drama

A Fall From Grace — drama

The Fallout — drama

Farewell Amor — drama

Fatal Affair (2020) — drama

Fatale — drama

The Father (2021) — drama

Fatima (2020) — drama

Fatman — comedy

Fear of Rain — horror

The Fight (2020) — documentary

First Cow — drama

Flipped (2020) — comedy

Force of Nature (2020) — action

For They Know Not What They Do — documentary

The Forty-Year-Old Version — comedy

Four Kids and It — fantasy

Framing John DeLorean — documentary

Freaky — horror

French Exit — comedy/drama

Friendsgiving — comedy

From the Vine — comedy/drama

Game of Death (2020) — horror

Ganden: A Joyful Land — documentary

The Garden Left Behind — drama

The Gasoline Thieves — drama

Gay Chorus Deep South — documentary

The Gentlemen — action

Get Duked! (formerly titled Boyz in the Wood) — comedy

Get Gone — horror

The Ghost of Peter Sellers — documentary

A Girl From Mogadishu — drama

A Girl Missing — drama

A Glitch in the Matrix — documentary

Godzilla vs. Kong — action

The Go-Go’s — documentary

Goldie — drama

Good Posture — comedy

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind — documentary

Greed — comedy/drama

Greenland — sci-fi/action

Gretel & Hansel — horror

Greyhound — drama

The Grudge (2020) — horror

Guest of Honour — drama

Gunda — documentary

Half Brothers — comedy

The Half of It — comedy

Halloween Party (2020) — horror

Happiest Season — comedy

Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics — documentary

Haymaker (2021) — drama

Healing From Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation — documentary

He Dreams of Giants — documentary

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful — documentary

Herself — drama

The High Note — comedy/drama

His House — horror

Holly Slept Over — comedy

Honest Thief — action

Hooking Up (2020) — comedy

Hope Gap — drama

Horse Girl — sci-fi/drama

The Host (2020) — horror

Hosts — horror

House of Hummingbird — drama

How to Build a Girl — comedy

How to Fix a Primary — documentary

Human Capital — drama

Human Nature (2020) — documentary

The Hunt — horror

Hunter Hunter — horror

Hysterical (2021) — documentary

I Am Human — documentary

I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story — drama

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation — action

If I Can’t Have You: The Jodi Arias Story — documentary

I Hate New York — documentary

I Hate the Man in My Basement — drama

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me — documentary

Impractical Jokers: The Movie — comedy

I’m Thinking of Ending Things — drama

I’m Your Woman — drama

Incitement — drama

Infamous (2020) — drama

The Infiltrators — docudrama

The Informer (2020) — drama

Initials SG — drama

Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica — documentary

Instaband — documentary

In the Footsteps of Elephant — documentary

The Invisible Man (2020) — horror

Iron Mask (formerly titled The Mystery of the Dragon Seal) — action

Irresistible (2020) — comedy

I Still Believe — drama

It Takes a Lunatic — documentary

I Used to Go Here — comedy/drama

I’ve Got Issues — comedy

I Want My MTV — documentary

I Will Make You Mine — drama

Jakob’s Wife — horror

Jay Myself — documentary

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey — musical

John Henry — action

John Lewis: Good Trouble — documentary

JonBenét Ramsey: What Really Happened? — documentary

Judas and the Black Messiah (formerly titled Jesus Was My Homeboy) — drama

Judy & Punch — drama

Jungleland (2020) — drama

Kajillionaire — comedy/drama

Kat and the Band — comedy

Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On! — documentary

Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections — documentary

Killer Therapy — horror

The Kill Team (2019) — drama

Kill the Monsters — drama

The Kindness of Strangers — drama

Kindred — drama

The King of Staten Island — comedy/drama

La Llorona — horror

Land (2021) — drama

The Last Full Measure — drama

The Last Vermeer — drama

The Lawyer — drama

Leftover Women — documentary

Les Misérables (2019) — drama

Let Him Go — drama

The Lie (2020) — drama

Life in a Day 2020 — documentary

Like a Boss — comedy

Limerence — comedy

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice — documentary

Lingua Franca — drama

Little Fish (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Little Things (2021) — drama

The Lodge — horror

The Longest Wave — documentary

Long Weekend (2021) — sci-fi/drama

Lost Bayou — drama

Lost Girls — drama

Lost Transmissions — drama

Los Últimos Frikis — documentary

Love and Monsters — sci-fi/horror/action

The Lovebirds — comedy

Love Sarah — comedy/drama

Love Wedding Repeat — comedy

Low Tide — drama

Lucky Grandma — action

Luz: The Flower of Evil — horror

LX 2048 — sci-fi

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over — documentary

Mai Khoi & the Dissidents — documentary

The Main Event (2020) — action

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound— documentary

Mallory (2021) — documentary

Mank — drama

The Man Who Sold His Skin — drama

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — drama

The Marksman (2021) — action

Martha: A Picture Story — documentary

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words — documentary

Mass (2021) — drama

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back — documentary

The Mauritanian — drama

Mighty Ira — documentary

Mighty Oak — drama

Military Wives — comedy/drama

The Mimic (2021) — comedy

Minari — drama

The Mindfulness Movement — documentary

Misbehaviour — drama

Miss Americana — documentary

Miss Juneteenth — drama

MLK/FBI — documentary

Moffie — drama

Monster Hunter — sci-fi/action

Mortal — sci-fi/action

Most Dangerous Game — action

Most Wanted (formerly titled Target Number One) — drama

Mr. Soul! — documentary

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado — documentary

Mulan (2020) — action

Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story — documentary

Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story — documentary

My Boyfriend’s Meds — comedy

My Dad’s Christmas Date — comedy/drama

My Darling Vivian — documentary

My Salinger Year — drama

My Spy — comedy

Mystify: Michael Hutchence — documentary

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind — documentary

The Nest (2020) — drama

Never Rarely Sometimes Always — drama

Never Too Late (2020) — comedy

News of the World — drama

A Nice Girl Like You — comedy

The Night (2021) — horror

Night of the Kings — drama

Nina Wu — drama

Noah Land — drama

Nobody (2021) — action

Nocturne (2020) — horror

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin — documentary

Nomadland — drama

No Man’s Land (2021) — drama

No Small Matter — documentary

Notturno — documentary

The Old Guard — action

Olympia — documentary

Olympic Dreams — comedy/drama

Once Upon a River — drama

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band — documentary

One Hour Outcall — drama

One Night in Bangkok — drama

One Night in Miami… — drama

Only — sci-fi/drama

On the Record — documentary

On the Rocks (2020) — drama

On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries — documentary

Onward — animation

Open — drama

Ordinary Love — drama

Origin of the Species — documentary

Otherhood — comedy

The Other Lamb — drama

Other Music — documentary

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles — documentary

Our Friend (formerly titled The Friend) — drama

Our Time Machine — documentary

Out of Blue — drama

The Outpost — drama

Out Stealing Horses — drama

The Painter and the Thief — documentary

Palm Springs — comedy

Parallel (2020) — sci-fi/drama

Paranormal Prison — horror

Parkland Rising — documentary

A Patient Man — drama

The Personal History of David Copperfield — comedy/drama

The Photograph — drama

The Place of No Words — drama

The Planters — comedy

Plucked — documentary

Plus One (2019) — comedy

The Pollinators — documentary

Pornstar Pandemic: The Guys — documentary

Possessor Uncut — sci-fi/horror

Premature (2020) — drama

The Prey (2020) — action

The Price of Desire — drama

Project Power — sci-fi/action

Promising Young Woman — comedy/drama

Proxima — sci-fi/drama

P.S. Burn This Letter Please — documentary

Public Enemy Number One — documentary

PVT CHAT — drama

The Quiet One — documentary

Quo Vadis, Aida? — drama

The Racer — drama

Radioactive — drama

A Rainy Day in New York — comedy

Raising Buchanan — comedy

Raya and the Last Dragon — animation

Rebuilding Paradise — documentary

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project — documentary

Red Penguins — documentary

Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs — animation

A Regular Woman — drama

Relic — horror

The Rental (2020) — horror

Rent-A-Pal — horror

The Rescue List — documentary

Resistance (2020) — drama

Retaliation (formerly titled Romans) — drama

Rewind — documentary

The Rhythm Section — action

The Ride (2020) — drama

Ride Like a Girl — drama

The Right One — comedy

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It — documentary

River City Drumbeat — documentary

Roald Dahl’s The Witches — horror/fantasy

Robert the Bruce — drama

Run (2020) — drama

Runner — documentary

Run With the Hunted — drama

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words — documentary

Safer at Home — drama

Saint Frances — comedy/drama

Saint Maud — horror

Save Yourselves! — sci-fi/horror/comedy

The Scheme (2020) — documentary

Scheme Birds — documentary

Scoob! — animation

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street — documentary

Screened Out — documentary

Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (formerly titled Seahorse) — documentary

Seberg — drama

The Secret: Dare to Dream — drama

A Secret Love — documentary

The Secrets We Keep — drama

See Know Evil — documentary

See You Yesterday — sci-fi/drama

Selah and the Spades — drama

Sergio (2020) — drama

The Seventh Day (2021) — horror

Shadows of Freedom — documentary

She Dies Tomorrow — drama

She’s in Portland — drama

Shine Your Eyes — drama

Shirley — drama

Shithouse — drama

Shortcut — horror

The Short History of the Long Road — drama

Showbiz Kids — documentary

The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock — documentary

Silk Road (2021) — drama

A Simple Wedding — comedy

The Sinners (2021) (formerly titled The Color Rose) — horror

Six Minutes to Midnight — drama

Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story — documentary

Skin Deep: The Battle Over Morgellons — documentary

Skin Walker — horror

Skyman — sci-fi/drama

Slay the Dragon — documentary

Smiley Face Killers — horror

Sno Babies — drama

Somebody Up There Likes Me (2020) — documentary

Some Kind of Heaven — documentary

Sometimes Always Never — comedy/drama

The Sonata — horror

Songbird — sci-fi/drama

Sonic the Hedgehog — live-action/animation

Sorry We Missed You — drama

Soul — animation

Sound of Metal — drama

Spaceship Earth — documentary

Spell (2020) — horror

Spelling the Dream (formerly titled Breaking the Bee) — documentary

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run — live-action/animation

Spontaneous — sci-fi/horror/comedy

Sputnik — sci-fi/horror

Standing Up, Falling Down — comedy/drama

Stardust (2020) — drama

Starting at Zero — documentary

The State of Texas vs. Melissa — documentary

Stealing School — comedy/drama

Stevenson Lost & Found — documentary

Still Here (2020) — drama

The Story of Soaps — documentary

The Stranger (Quibi original) — drama

Stray (2021) — drama

Stray Dolls — drama

Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash — drama

The Stylist — horror

Sublime — documentary

Summerland — drama

The Sunlit Night — comedy/drama

Supernova (2021) — drama

The Surrogate — drama

Survive — drama

Swallow — drama

The Swerve — drama

The Swing of Things — comedy

Sylvie’s Love — drama

Synchronic — sci-fi/horror

Tape (2020) — drama

Tar — horror

A Taste of Sky — documentary

Ten Minutes to Midnight  — horror

Tesla  — drama

Then Came You (2020)  — comedy

They Call Me Dr. Miami — documentary

The Thing About Harry  — comedy

Think Like a Dog — comedy/drama

This Is Personal — documentary

This Is Stand-Up — documentary

A Thousand Cuts (2020) — documentary

A Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy — documentary

Through the Night (2020) — documentary

Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison — comedy

Time (2020) — documentary

The Times of Bill Cunningham — documentary

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made  — comedy

To Kid or Not to Kid — documentary

The Tobacconist — drama

Tom and Jerry — live-action/animation

Tommaso — drama

Tom of Your Life — sci-fi/comedy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free — documentary

Totally Under Control — documentary

Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare — drama

The Trial of the Chicago 7 — drama

The Trip to Greece — comedy

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts — documentary

Trolls World Tour — animation

Troop Zero — comedy

The True Adventures of Wolfboy — drama

The Truffle Hunters — documentary

Trust (2021) — drama

The Truth — drama

The Turning (2020) — horror

The Twentieth Century — comedy

Two of Us (2021) — drama

Tyson — documentary

Unbelievable (premiere episode) — drama

Uncaged (also titled Prey) – horror

Uncorked — drama

Underwater — sci-fi/horror

Unhinged (2020) — action

The United States vs. Billie Holiday — drama

Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music — documentary

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own — documentary

Valley Girl (2020) — musical

The Vanished (2020) (formerly titled Hour of Lead)— drama

The Vast of Night — sci-fi/drama

Vas-y Coupe! — documentary

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee — comedy

The Vigil (2021) — horror

The Village in the Woods — horror

Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations — documentary

Vivarium — sci-fi/drama

Voyagers — sci-fi/drama

Waiting for the Barbarians — drama

Wander Darkly — drama

The War With Grandpa — comedy

Watson — documentary

The Way Back (2020) — drama

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme — documentary

We Are Little Zombies — comedy/drama

We Are Many — documentary

We Are the Radical Monarchs — documentary

Weathering With You — animation

Welcome to Chechnya — documentary

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali — documentary

What We Found — drama

What Will Become of Us — documentary

When the Streetlights Go On — drama

The Whistlers — drama

A White, White Day — drama

Widow of Silence — drama

Wig — documentary

Wild Mountain Thyme — drama

The Windermere Children — drama

Witch Hunt (2021) — horror

Wojnarowicz — documentary

The Wolf House — animation

The Wolf of Snow Hollow — horror

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem — documentary

Wonder Woman 1984 — action

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation — documentary

Words on Bathroom Walls — drama

Work It — comedy/drama

The World to Come — drama

The Wretched — horror

A Writer’s Odyssey — fantasy/action

The Wrong Missy — comedy

XY Chelsea — documentary

Yellow Rose — drama

You Cannot Kill David Arquette — documentary

You Don’t Nomi — documentary

You Go to My Head — drama

You Should Have Left — horror

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn — documentary

Zack Snyder’s Justice League — action

Zappa — documentary

Zombi Child — horror

Review: ‘The Man Who Sold His Skin,’ starring Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw and Monica Bellucci

April 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Koen De Bouw and Yahya Mahayni in “The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Photo courtesy Tanit Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“The Man Who Sold His Skin”

Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania

English, Arabic and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 2011 to 2013 in Syria, Lebanon, Belgium and Switzerland, the dramatic film “The Man Who Sold His Skin” features a cast of white and Arabic characters representing working-class refugees, the middle-class and the wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Syrian refugee agrees to be paid to have his back tattooed and to display himself as “living art,” but his contract with a rich and famous Belgian artist comes at a heavy price.

Culture Audience: “The Man Who Sold His Skin” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in seeing a compelling movie that shows an intersection between the art world and the world of war refugees.

Dea Liane, Yahya Manayni and Monica Bellucci in “The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Photo courtesy Tanit Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” is a fascinating mashup of a love story, social commentary on refugee issues, and a scornful indictment of the elitist world of high-priced and trendy art collecting. It’s a lot to pack into a 104-minute movie, but “The Man Who Sold His Skin” mostly succeeds in weaving everything together coherently. The last 20 minutes of the movie have some plot twists that are rushed, a little awkward, and require some suspension of disbelief. However, these very contrived plot developments don’t take away from the movie’s intention of showing how human lives can be valued and devalued.

Written and directed by Kaouther Ben Hania, “The Man Who Sold His Skin” is a fictional story inspired by a real-life experience that she had in 2012. Ben Hania says in the movie’s production notes: “The idea for ‘The Man Who Sold His Skin’ began germinating in my head in 2012. I was at the Louvre in Paris, which at the time was devoting a retrospective to Belgium artist Wim Delvoye. There I saw, in Napoleon III Apartments, Delvoye’s ‘Tim’ (2006 – 08), in which the artist had tattooed the back of Tim Steiner, who was sitting on an
armchair with his shirt off displaying Delvoye’s design.”

In “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” a Syrian refugee is the one who agrees to have a Belgian artist tattoo his back and display him as “living art.” The refugee does it for the money, but it comes at a huge cost to his dignity, emotional well-being and possibly his freedom. How did he end up in this situation? And can he get out of it? “The Man Who Sold His Skin” tells that story in way that will keep viewers riveted.

Sam Ali (played by Yahya Mahayni), who appears to be in his early-to-mid 30s, didn’t think he would end up as a Syrian prisoner and later a refugee. The movie begins in 2011, by showing flashbacks to Sam’s life before and after it was turned upside down by the Syrian civil war that started in March of that year. Before the war, Sam’s biggest problem was how to get his girlfriend Abeer Al-Khateeb (played by Dea Liane) to marry him when she hasn’t even told her family that they’re dating.

Sam and Abeer are shown riding on a train together. At first they’re sitting right next to each other. But the growing divisiveness in Syria is implied when Sam puts his arm around Abeer and she tells him to stop because she doesn’t know who else on the train might seem them together. “What if someone knows my family?” she asks Sam.

Sam obliges her request to not show public displays of affection. He even goes as far as moving to another seat that’s in the row next to the row where Abeer is sitting. As they continue their conversation, Sam asks Abeer why she’s never told her mother about him. She doesn’t really give an answer, but viewers can easily see that there’s some kind of class divide that has made Abeer ashamed or frightened to tell her family that she and Sam are dating each other.

And although it’s not said out loud, Abeer probably comes from a family that believes in arranged marriages, because it’s implied that Sam and Abeer are both Muslim. Sam somewhat nervously asks Abeer about a man she’s scheduled meeting the next day. Abeer tells Sam that this man works at the Syrian embassy in Belgium.

While they’re talking on the train, Abeer seem to feel badly about keeping her romance with Sam a secret. She somewhat bashfully tells him, “I love you.” Sam is so elated that Abeer said these words out loud to him in public, he reacts with over-the-top enthusiasm by getting up and telling everyone in the train car that he loves Abeer.

And then, Sam goes one step further and yells to everyone that he wants to marry her. Abeer is caught up in the excitement of Abeer’s shouting and hugging and appears to agree to his marriage proposal. Some of the people offer congratulations, and a man on the train is seen filming this spectacle on his phone.

But Sam and Abeer’s happiness together comes to a crashing halt. Somehow, Sam ends up in jail after the Syrian civil war has begun. The movie never shows the details over why Sam is in jail. And it also isn’t revealed how long after his marriage proposal to Abeer that Sam ended up incarcerated. However, it’s mentioned at one point in the movie that Sam was wrongfully imprisoned.

In Syrian jails, prisoners are allowed to have cats in their jail cells. Sam is shown with a young orange tabby cat as his only companion in his cell. He’s taken out of solitary confinement and then put in a crowded cell with about six to eight other men. The cat is seen several times in the movie as a symbol of the one constant in Sam’s life during this story’s approximately two-year period, which takes him on a turbulent personal journey in several countries.

It isn’t spoiler information to reveal that Sam escapes from prison, with help from someone on the outside. And the first place he goes after he escapes is to Abeer’s home. It’s implied that Sam and Abeer haven’t seen each other in several months. When she does seem him again, Sam is dirty, disheveled and desperate.

This isn’t going to be a happy reunion because while Sam was in jail, Abeer ended up dating the embassy worker whom she met the day after Sam proposed marriage to her. The embassy worker’s name is Ziad (played by Saad Lostan), and viewers will later see that he’s an arrogant, jealous and hot-tempered man. Sam knows that Abeer is now dating another man, which is why he’s somewhat humiliated to ask Abeer if Ziad can do anything to help Sam with his legal problems.

As Sam and Abeer are having this conversation outside of her house, Ziad comes out of the house to see what’s going on. It’s the first time that Ziad and Sam will meet, but it won’t be the last time that they see each other. The conversation is brief, but it’s clear that both men know about each other’s relationship with Abeer. Ziad is asked if there’s anything he can do to help Sam, but Ziad somewhat coldly and dismissively says that there’s nothing he can do because he works in foreign affairs.

Because Sam is a prison escapee, he knows that if he’s caught, he will face even worse punishment. And there’s also the problem of the escalating civil war in Syria, where Sam could be forced into combat. And so, he makes plans to be live with his sister (played by Najoua Zouhair) in Lebanon. Sam’s family members do not have names in this movie, perhaps as a way to put an emphasis on his isolation throughout most of the movie.

Sam’s sister smuggles Sam out of Syria in her car, and they arrive safely in Lebanon. And yes, that orange tabby cat is along for the ride. Sam’s mother (played by Darina Al Joundi) has stayed behind in Syria. Sam and his mother keep in contact by Skype conversations, which are shown in the movie.

One year after escaping from Syria, Sam is living in Lebanon, but he’s miserable. Abeer is now married to Ziad, and they both live in Belgium, where Ziad still works for the Syrian embassy. Sam and Abeer still keep in touch with each other through Skype conversations, which Abeer keeps a secret from Ziad for as long as possible.

Sam tries to keep a friendly and upbeat relationship with Abeer, but there’s still an unspoken love between them. Sam never says anything inappropriate to her, nor does he try to get her to cheat on Ziad. However, the fact that Abeer is keeping her communications with Sam a secret from Abeer means that she thinks there’s something to hide. In one scene, Ziad comes into the room while Abeer is talking to Sam by Skype, and Sam quickly moves away from the camera before Abeer eventually disconnects the conversation.

It weighs heavily on Sam that he can’t see Abeer. And so, he dreams of one day going to Belgium, since it’s highly unlikely she will ever go to Lebanon to visit him. In Lebanon, Sam works as a chicken sexer (a low-paying job where workers determine the gender of baby chickens, which are usually on an assembly line), but his real passion is art.

Sam and a fellow Syrian refugee named Hazem (played by Jan Dahdoh), who works with Sam at the chicken factory, spend some of their evenings by crashing party events for high-priced art. Their main purpose is to steal some of the catered food that’s on tables for the event guests. However, Sam also tries to look at the art on display since he appreciates fine art. Sometimes he’s with Hazem when he sneaks into these events, and sometimes he’s by himself.

Sam has various tricks for getting into these events when he’s not on the guest list. In one tactic, he waits in the lobby and pretends to be talking on the phone near some people who are on the guest list. When the people on the guest list have their names checked out and allowed entry, Sam casually walks next to them, as if he’s with these guests.

The tactic doesn’t really work at a certain party where Sam is by himself and has already been exposed that he’s a party crasher when the lobby attendants don’t see his name on the guest list. The lobby attendants have noticed that Sam has walked into the party with legitimate guests, so they alert security. Sam doesn’t get thrown out of the party because one of the hosts of the party named Soraya Waldy (played by Monica Bellucci) sees him and is intrigued.

Soraya immediately figures out that Sam is a Syrian refugee who’s there to steal food, and she decides that he’s harmless. Soraya takes charge, approaches Sam discreetly, and tells him if he can wait until the party is over, he’ll get a package of food that are leftovers. Sam’s pride is wounded and he tells Soraya, “Fuck you,” as he walks off into the bar area.

One of the men having drinks at the bar is a very rich and famous Belgian artist, but Sam doesn’t know it at first. The artist’s name is Jeffrey Godefroi (played by Koen De Bouw) and his art is on display at this event. Media outlets have called Jeffrey “the world’s most expensive living artist,” because each piece of his work is priced in the high millions.

Soraya is Jeffrey’s agent. She points out Sam, who doesn’t notice them, and tells Jeffrey: “He’s a Syrian refugee, and he’s a freeloader.” The next thing you know, Jeffrey is having a conversation at the bar with Sam.

Jeffrey offers to buy Sam a drink, and then Jeffrey slowly drops hints about who he is while trying to find out what Sam’s story is. First, Jeffrey says that he’s an artist from Belgium, but that he’s a little bit American. Sam is immediately interested because he wants to visit Abeer in Belgium.

Sam begins to opens up to Jeffrey by telling him that he has a girlfriend who lives in Belgium but they can’t see each other right now. Sam is vague about why, because he doesn’t want to tell Jeffrey that Abeer is married and Sam can’t afford to travel to Belgium. At this point, Jeffrey already knows that Sam is broke and desperate.

The conversation then takes a metaphorical turn when Jeffrey says that he can offer Sam a “flying carpet” to Belgium. Sam replies sarcastically, Do you think you’re a genie?” Jeffrey laughs and says, “Sometimes I think I’m [the demon] Mephistopheles.” Sam asks, “You want my soul?” Jeffrey replies, “I want your back.”

And so begins Sam’s turbulent experience in Jeffrey’s orbit and in the fickle world of wealthy art collectors looking for the next big thing. Jeffrey tells Sam that he wants to do an art project that pushes boundaries that Jeffrey has never pushed before: Jeffrey wants to tattoo someone’s entire back and then put that person on display as “living art” in Belgium. Jeffrey tells Sam he would be the perfect person for this project.

At first, Sam is reluctant because the contract requires that Sam has to be on display wherever Jeffrey thinks he should be. As payment, Jeffrey offers Sam one-third of the resale value that Jeffrey gets from selling this “living art” elaborate back tattoo as a traveling art project. Sam agrees to the deal and signs the contract.

The large back tattoo ends up being of a giant passport, because Sam’s story as a Syrian refugee is being used to sell Sam as “living art.” It reeks of exploitation, but Sam initially sees it as a “win-win” situation: He gets an all-expenses-paid trip to Belgium (where he stays at a five-star hotel), the country where Abeer lives, and he’ll be getting enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life, which he hopes will include Abeer.

To get around human trafficking laws, Jeffrey and Soraya have “donated” this art project to a Belgian museum. However, it’s implied that Jeffrey and Soraya have a back-room deal where they get some of the revenue from the museum’s ticket sales. The movie reveals whether or not any of that money ends up being paid to Sam as part of his agreed commission. Abeer lives in the Belgian capital of Brussels, and it’s implied (based on what happens later in the story) that the museum where Sam goes on display is also in or near Brussels.

Sam doesn’t want Abeer to know that he’s sold himself as an art exhibit. Instead, when he excitedly calls Abeer to tell her that he’s in Belgium on business, he lies by saying that he’s working as an assistant for a famous Belgian artist. Sam misleads Abeer into thinking that he does the usual work of an art assistant. Abeer and Sam begin chatting by Skype again, but she seems very afraid of meeting up with him in person. However, Abeer seems happy for Sam and his new career, because she knows how much he loves art.

There’s a bit of a plot hole when it comes to Abeer not knowing about the type of work that Sam is really doing for Jeffrey, but this plot hole can be explained away. The “living art” exhibit is big news in the Belgian media because of Jeffrey’s fame. Sam’s full name is also mentioned in the media reports.

However, viewers will have to assume that Abeer somehow never saw these media reports, because Sam is able to keep lying to Abeer about the nature of his job. It’s also implied that Abeer isn’t really interested in art and therefore this news about the exhibit wouldn’t be on her radar. However, the news is big enough that it draws the attention of human rights groups. There’s also a documentary filmmaker named Marc Sheen (played by Marc de Panda), who’s doing a documentary about this traveling exhibit

While Sam is in Belgium, he gets a visit at his hotel room from Adel Saadi (played by Husam Chadat), chair of the Organization of the Defense of Syrian Refugees. Adel warns Sam that he’s being exploited, and he offers his organization’s help in getting Sam out of this situation. Sam angrily responds that he if he wants to sell his own “back or ass,” that it’s no one else’s business. Sam then slams the door in Adel’s face.

The rest of “The Man Who Sold His Skin” is a topsy-turvy ride where Sam has to reckon with his choices and how these choices might affect the rest of his life. It’s enough to say that Sam underestimated the “traveling exhibit” part of his contract. Jeffrey and Soraya get greedier and find a way to “sell” Sam as an art display to a wealthy Swiss art collector named Christian Waltz (played by Patrick Albenque), who shows off Sam as if Sam is a well-paid-for trophy.

What about human trafficking laws? Soraya explains to someone in the movie that the Swiss government has more lenient laws than other countries when it comes to human trafficking. And so, it was legal to do this transaction in Switzerland, because it falls under the Swiss government’s definition of “art dealing.” Of course, being stuck in Switzerland is a problem for Sam because he wants to be in Belgium. However, Soraya and Jeffrey are willing to go to extremes to hold Sam to his contract.

It’s easy to see why “The Man Who Sold His Skin” has been getting awards recognition. It’s the first Tunisian-made film to be Oscar-nominated for Best International Feature. And at the 2020 Venice International Film Festival, Mahayni won the award for Best Actor, for his role in “The Man Who Sold His Skin.” Mahayni gives a complex and engrossing performance as a man who has escaped one oppressive environment to unknowingly jump into another oppressive environment. The movie’s other main cast members give commendable performances, but “The Man Who Sold His Skin” wouldn’t work as well without Mahayni’s authentic portrayal.

Without being preachy, “The Man Who Sold His Skin” offers blistering scrutiny of the different ways that refugees and other marginalized people can be taken advantage of by powerful and privileged people. And on another level, the movie is an incisive, almost satirical look at the world of high-priced art collecting and who gets to determine the value of art. When rich people get into bidding wars over art, who’s being manipulated and who really profits?

Writer/director Ben Hania infuses the movie with enough suspense to immerse viewers in this story. Some of the movie becomes a bit like a soap opera when it comes to the love triangle between Sam, Abeer and Ziad. However, any melodrama in the story doesn’t ruin the movie. Viewers will be rooting for protagonist Sam, who has his share of heartbreak in this story.

The plot’s main flaw is when a major player in the story does something that’s completely out of character, in order to have a pivotal plot development that seems designed to be more crowd-pleasing than realistic. The about-face in this person’s character just doesn’t ring true. However, if viewers are looking for a richly layered and unique movie about how the world of European art and the world of Syrian refugees can collide, then “The Man Who Sold His Skin” should meet or exceed most expectations.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “The Man Who Sold His Skin” in New York City on April 2, 2021, and in Los Angeles on April 9, 2021. The movie’s U.S. release will expand to more cities over the next few weeks.

Review: ‘Jakob’s Wife,’ starring Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden and Bonnie Aarons

April 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Barbara Crampton in “Jakob’s Wife” (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder)

“Jakob’s Wife”

Directed by Travis Stevens

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror flick “Jakob’s Wife” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and one Latino) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A minister’s housewife, who’s bored with her marriage, becomes a vampire. 

Culture Audience: “Jakob’s Wife” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in horror movies that mix bloody gore with campy comedy.

Larry Fessenden in “Jakob’s Wife” (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder)

“Jakob’s Wife” is a memorable vampire flick that serves up a hilariously enjoyable blend of campy horror and gruesome chills, with a dash of female empowerment. The movie isn’t for people who hate the sight of blood. (It’s a vampire movie for adults. What do you expect?) But for people who can handle all the over-the-top gory mayhem in the story, then “Jakob’s Wife” might be your bloody cup of tea.

There are many predictable routes that a vampire movie can take. “Jakob’s Wife” takes some of those routes (for example, the title character’s transformation into a vampire follows the usual conventions of blood lust), but then the movie takes some unexpected and wacky detours. “Jakob’s Wife” director Travis Stevens, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland, revels in the movie’s low-budget aura and makes sure that viewers know that this movie is not taking itself seriously at all. “Jakob’s Wife” had its world premiere at the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

The title character of “Jakob’s Wife” is Anne Fedder (played by Barbara Crampton), the dutiful spouse of a minister named Jakob Fedder (played by Larry Fessenden), her husband of about 30 years. Anne and Jakob, who do not have children, live in an unnamed small town in the United States. They are Christian, but their specific religion is not mentioned in the movie.

The movie’s opening scene takes place during a church service that Jakob is conducting. He tells the parishioners during his sermon that men should respect their wives because it’s a reflection of how husband feel about themselves. “He who loves his wife loves himself,” intones Jakob.

Jakob is not secretly a hypocrite who abuses his wife. He loves Anne and he treats her very well. Anne hasn’t fallen completely out of love with Jakob, but their marriage has become boring to her. It’s implied that their sexual intimacy has decreased significantly. Jakob is devoted to his work at the church, while Anne spends her days doing workout routines and gardening.

In the movie’s opening scene at the church service, one of the parishioners approaches Jakob and tells him, “It was a beautiful service.” Her name is Amelia (played by and she’s about 16 to 18 years old. Anne notices that Amelia’s mother Lucy, who is a regular churchgoer, is not with with Amelia.

Anne asks Amelia where her mother is, and Amelia says with some sadness and embarrassment that her mother couldn’t be there because Lucy started drinking again. Amelia adds, “I’m praying for her happiness.” Anne and Jakob express their sympathies.

While Amelia is walking home at night by herself, she’s startled to see some rats crawling around at her feet. She quickly walks away but not long after that, someone with vampire-type hands grans her from behind. It won’t be the last time that viewers see Amelia.

Not long afterward, Amelia is reported missing. Anne and Jakob have dinner at their house with Jakob’s brother Bob (played by Mark Kelly) and Bob’s wife Carol (played by Sarah Lind). The topic of Amelia’s disappearance comes up in the conversation.

Everyone except Anne seems to think that it’s likely that Amelia ran away. Anne is skeptical of that theory because she thinks Amelia was too close to her mother Lucy to suddenly abandon her. Of course, viewers who know that “Jakob’s Wife” is a vampire movie can easily predict what happened to Amelia.

Over this family dinner, the discussion also includes Anne’s involvement in a construction project that she thinks will be good for their town. She’s apparently part of the town’s Historical Society, which had to approve this project because it’s being built on historical land. The project will be an abandoned mill that is going to be turned into a retail space.

Anne comments that the Historical Society thinks the new retail space will provide tourism and jobs. Jakob is leery of the project because he doesn’t think that this anything commercial should be built on this historical land. But there’s probably another reason why Jakob is uneasy about this construction job.

It just so happens that the interior designer for the space is an ex-boyfriend of Anne’s named Tom Lewis (played by Robert Russler), and they haven’t seen each other in years. Jakob calls Tom an “old flame” of Anne’s, while she downplays the relationship that she had with Tom, by saying that they were “just kids” when she and Tom dated each other.

Anne and Tom have agreed to meet for dinner at a restaurant to discuss the construction project. Judging by the way Anne gets ready for the dinner, she wants to look very attractive for this meeting and she might have some unresolved has feelings for Tom. When Anne and Tom see each other again, they can’t help but notice they’ve still got chemistry with each other.

It soon becomes clear that Tom had a “bad boy” reputation when he dated Anne. She comments to him that he was “uncontrollable” in those days. Meanwhile, Tom says to Anne about how she’s changed since he last saw her.

“You a church mouse?” Tom declares with surprise. “What happened to the adventurous Anne who wanted to travel to exotic places?” Anne replies, “You make plans for things and then life happens. It was around the time that you left town that my mother died, and Jakob was there for me.”

Anne continues, “He offered me comfort—and so did the church. They were both steady when I needed support. Make no mistake—we have a food life. I’m happy.” Tom seems to accept that explanation.

But on another day, when Anne and Tom are at the abandoned mill where the new construction will take place, it’s revealed that this was also a place where Anne and Tom had romantic trysts when they were dating each other. Tom brings it up and Anne says she hasn’t forgotten. It should come as no surprise that Anne and Tom start kissing each other.

What happens next at this abandoned mill leads to Anne becoming a vampire. Will Anne have an extramarital affair with Tom? Will Jakob find out that she’s a vampire? And how will Anne satisfy her cravings for blood? All of those questions are answered in the movie.

Anne finds out early during her turning into a vampire that animal blood won’t work for her. There’s a comical scene of her going to the butcher section of a grocery store and asking the butcher (played by Skeeta Jenkins) if she could just buy the blood from the meat. When she gets home and drinks the blood like someone would drink wine or martinis, she discovers that the animal blood actually makes her sick. And yes, there’s a nauseating scene where she vomits up blood like a garden hose on full blast.

People who watch “Jakob’s Wife” should know that the movie is very enthusiastic about showing a lot of blood and bile gushing from bodies of humans and animals. This isn’t the type of vampire movie where a vampire gives neck bites with the minimum amount of blood drainage. No, in “Jakob’s Wife,” the people who get bitten by a vampire have enough blood spewing out of them to fill buckets.

The movie gets chillingly creative in a scene where Anne visits her dentist Dr. Meda (played by Monica L. Henry) for a routine checkup. The doctor notices that Anne has new teeth (that look like baby fangs) growing inside her back teeth. And when an automatic teeth-cleaning device is put on Anne’s mouth, it leads to one of the more horrifying yet intentionally hilarious scenes in the movie.

There’s a lot of crude dialogue that’s also meant to comedic. It’s enough to say that Anne isn’t the only vampire in the story. During an attack by one of the other vampires, this bloodsucker growls to the intended victim: “I’m going to tongue fuck a hole in your head until I puke blood!”

And later, a bratty neighborhood girl (played by Armani Desirae), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, sees Anne acting suspiciously in Anne’s front yard. The girl refuses to leave because she says she wants to learn a new curse word. Anne tells the girl, “Fuck off!” And the girl replies, “I already know that one!” It’s an example of some of the off-the-wall humor in the movie.

Early on in the movie, Jakob scolds two teenagers who are smoking a joint on the hood of his car that’s parked outside the church. One of the teens, whose name is Oscar (played by Omar Salazar) angrily talks back to Jakob, while Oscar’s female friend Eli (Angelie Simone, also known as Angelie Denizard) tries to calm him down and de-escalate the situation. Jakob ends up confiscating the marijuana joint, which shows up later in one of the movie’s comedic scenes.

Where there’s a vampire plague, there’s also a vampire leader. And in “Jakob’s Wife,” that leader is called The Master (played by Bonnie Aarons), who looks like an androgynous Nosferatu type of vampire. The way this creature looks isn’t fully revealed until a certain point in the movie. The Master keeps appearing near Anne and Jakob’s house and ends up having a big moment in the movie that’s one of the highlights of the film.

The cast members of “Jakob’s Wife” lean into their roles with gusto. All of the characters are well-cast, and Crampton’s performance sets the right level of tongue-in-cheek tone (or bite-in-neck tone, as it were) that makes the movie so entertaining to watch. (Crampton is one of the movie’s producers.) And even when there are some horror movie tropes, such as take-charge Sheriff Mike Hess (played Jay DeVon Johnson) and his bumbling Deputy Colton (played by C.M. Punk), there’s enough satire for viewers to know that everyone is in on the joke.

What also makes “Jakob’s Wife” better than the average horror film is that the movie’s characters aren’t complete stereotypes. Jakob isn’t as dull and uptight as people might think he is on first impression. Anne doesn’t become an evil vampire, because she’s someone who is struggles with having to adjust to this drastic change in her life.

The movie’s musical score by Tara Busch doesn’t conform to the expected norms of a horror movie that’s about a middle-aged woman who becomes a vampire. Normally, a movie like this would have the usual Gothic scary music or have soundtrack cues using songs that were popular during this middle-aged woman’s youth. Instead, “Jakob’s wife” is heavy with interludes of modern electronica music that sounds spooky at the same time. It’s almost as if to conjure up images that this minister’s wife could end up at an underground dance club now that she’s a vampire. It should come as no surprise that Anne’s lusty side is awakened, as she takes full control of her sexuality during her metamorphosis.

Underneath all the blood spatter and violent mayhem, “Jakob’s Wife” also has a message of finding one’s identity in the strangest of circumstances. Is it bizarre that a woman finally figures out how to be a strong and independent person only after she becomes a vampire? This movie doesn’t seem to think it’s so far-fetched, and in fact celebrates this transformation. And if the new Anne could change the title of the movie, she’d change it from “Jakob’s Wife” to “Anne the Vampire Warrior.”

RLJE Films and Shudder released “Jakob’s Wife” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on April 16, 2021.

2021 Tribeca Film Festival: ‘In the Heights’ is the opening night film; festival will hold live, in-person events outdoors

April 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in “In the Heights” (Photo by Macall Polay/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Tribeca Film Institute has announced that the Warner Bros. Pictures musical “In the Heights” will be the opening night film at the 20th annual Tribeca Film Festival, which will be held in New York City from June 9 to June 20, 2021. Directed by Jon M. Chu, “In the Heights” is based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical of the same name. “In the Heights” tells the fictional story of a group of mostly Latino residents of New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood The movie’s cast members include Anthony Ramos, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Melissa Barrera, Olga Meridez and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Miranda has a small role in the film.

“In the Heights” will be released in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max on June 11, 2021. The movie was originally scheduled for release in 2020, but the release was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More movies and events for the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival are to be announced.

Miranda commented in a statement: “It is such an honor to open the 20th anniversary Tribeca Festival with In the Heights. We’re so excited to welcome them uptown! This will be an unforgettable night at the United Palace. We can’t wait to share this musical love letter to our community, with our community, in our community.”

The Tribeca Film Festival was one of numerous large-scale events in 2020 that were cancelled as an in-person event. However, a limited number of the festival’s movies were made available online to members of the media and entertainment industry. The festival also had jury-voted awards in 2020.

The Tribeca Film Festival participated with numerous other festivals in the inaugural We Are One: A Global Film Festival, which was held May 29 to June 7, 2020, as a YouTube showcase for festival films that couldn’t be screened by in-person audiences because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of these offerings were international films that were not in English but had subtitles.

The annual Tribeca Film Festival had been traditionally held from late April to early May. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has moved to June in 2021. In March 2021, it was announced that screenings for the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival will be held in person at various venues (mostly outdoors), with social distancing, mask wearing and other safety protocols in place. The venues that will have Tribeca Film Festival screenings include Brookfield Place New York, Pier 57 Rooftop, The Battery, Hudson Yards (all in Manhattan); The MetroTech Commons (in Brooklyn); and Empire Outlets (in Staten Island).

Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused worldwide shutdowns in March 2020, most film festivals that weren’t cancelled have pivoted to becoming online-only/virtual events. It has not been announced if the Tribeca Film Festival will also offer movies online to audiences who can’t attend the festival in person.

The Tribeca TV Festival, which launched in 2017, was cancelled in 2020. It has not been announced if the Tribeca TV Festival will return in 2021.

The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in 2011 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in to revitalize lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The first Tribeca Film Festival took place in 2002. The festival’s screenings initially took place exclusively in lower Manhattan, but over the years the festival has expanded to venues across New York City. In 2020, the Tribeca Film Festival announced that it would, for the first time, hold some its programming in New Jersey (in the city of Hoboken), but the festival was cancelled as an in-person event before that could happen.

Review: ‘Six Minutes to Midnight,’ starring Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench

April 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench in “Six Minutes to Midnight” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Six Minutes to Midnight”

Directed by Andy Goddard

Culture Representation: Taking place in England in 1939, the spy drama “Six Minutes to Midnight” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and various government officials.

Culture Clash: On the brink of World War II, a German British spy poses as an English teacher at a boarding school in England for daughters of powerful German Nazis.

Culture Audience: “Six Minutes to Midnight” will appeal primarily to people interested in stories about spies who target Nazis, but the movie ineptly bungles what are supposed to be the most suspenseful parts of the story.

Carla Juri and Judi Dench in “Six Minutes to Midnight” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench star in a movie about a spy who infiltrates a boarding school for Nazi teenage girls. What could possibly go wrong? In the case of the woefully misguided “Six Minutes to Midnight”: Everything. The story’s “mystery villain” is revealed about halfway through the film, and the rest of the story consists of far-fetched chase scenes and shootouts.

The only realistic thing about “Six Minutes to Midnight” is that the story was inspired by the real-life Augusta-Victoria College, a prestigious independent boarding school for mostly teenage girls in the coastal town of Bexhill-on-Seas, England, which is Izzard’s hometown. Augusta-Victoria College existed from 1932 to 1939, and it enrolled German female students ranging in ages from 16 to 21. It was a school intended to foster good will between British and German cultures. The school’s students weren’t just any students though: They were the daughters of high-ranking Nazis.

According to the “Six Minutes to Midnight” production notes, Izzard was so intrigued by the history of Augusta-Victoria College, it inspired Izzard to want to do a movie about it. Andrew Goddard directed “Six Minutes to Midnight” from a screenplay that he wrote with Izzard and Celyn Jones. Izzard is also one of the producers of “Six Minutes to Midnight,” which comes across as a bit of a vanity project where Izzard wants to be a spy character who’s an action star, without the suave flair and dazzling stunts of James Bond.

Fair enough, but it’s unfortunate that Izzard was a major creator for this clumsily constructed movie. “Six Minutes to Midnight” also shamefully glosses over the horrors of Nazi evil and is instead more concerned with whether or not Augusta-Victoria College’s lonely spinster headmistress will be separated from her students, as war appears inevitable between Great Britain and Nazi Germany. By the end of the movie, viewers will learn almost next to nothing about Izzard’s Thomas Miller character, except that he sure likes to use the beach a lot as a hiding place.

“Six Minutes to Midnight,” which takes place over a period of less than a month, begins on August 15, 1939, in Bexhill-on-Sea. A middle-aged man who goes by the name of Wheatley (played by Nigel Lindsay) is in a classroom, as he frantically looks for something that’s in a hidden space behind one of the room’s book shelves. He takes out a small box and is visibly upset when he finds out that what he’s looking for isn’t there.

Viewers find out a short time later that this classroom is at Augusta-Victoria College, which is sprawled out on a large property near the beach. As a distraught Wheatley quickly rides off on a bicycle, he is being watched through an upper-room window by the school’s headmistress/principal Miss Rocholl (played by Dench), who’s got that hard-nosed “Don’t try to mess with me” look that Dench has for most of the characters she tends to play. Wheatley goes to a phone booth, where he makes a panicky phone call to an unidentified man.

“It’s missing!” Wheatley shouts. “Don’t you understand? They’ve taken it!” The man on the other line can be heard saying something about duty. Wheatley responds, “They know they’re being watched! I can’t go back!”

So now that it’s been established that Wheatley has been caught spying on Augusta-Victoria College, it’s kind of a no-brainer to figure out who sent him there. The person on the other line was guilt-tripping Wheatley about “duty.” And that just screams “service to the government.”

The fact that Wheatley is a government spy isn’t the mystery. The mystery is what happened to Wheatley, who is shown sitting at a table on a pier’s wooden deck after making his upsetting phone call. And then, the next thing you know, all that’s seen is that Wheatley is missing from the deck and his bowler hat is flying off in the wind. Did he disappear? Is he dead? Did he give his two weeks’ notice? Does anyone care?

Izzard’s Thomas Miller character comes into the picture soon afterward, when he interviews at Augusta-Victoria College, as a replacement for Wheatley. The school found Wheatley and Thomas through the same employment agency. Thomas is greeted in a friendly and upbeat manner by schoolteacher Ilse Keller (played by Carla Juri), who is Miss Rocholl’s trusted right-hand person.

What’s somewhat laughable about this badly made film is that even though there are only 20 students currently at this school, Ilse and Miss Rocholl are the only faculty members seen at Augusta-Victoria College. Where are the other employees? There isn’t even a janitor or caretaker in sight for this sizeable property.

Augusta-Victoria College is portrayed in the movie as a high-level finishing school for girls (they practice things such as poise and balance by walking with books on their heads), but there no servants shown on the premises of this boarding school. After all, how can these Hitler youth practice a bigoted Nazi sense of superiority without “lowly” staffers to boss around? The main indication that the students are in a cult-like environment is when Ilse frequently takes the students to the nearby beach, where the students stand in military-like formations and move when she commands them to, like good little Stepford Nazis.

Thomas predictably gets hired at the school, so he’s technically the third faculty member shown in the movie. However, he doesn’t become a permanent staffer, because Miss Rocholl tells Thomas when she hires him that she wants to test him out on a trial basis first. In other words, he’s a temporary employee. This job interview takes place on August 21, 1939, which is six days after Wheatley has disappeared. By the time that the end of the story happens on September 3, 1939, Thomas will be long gone from his employment at Augusta-Victoria College.

In his job interview with Miss Rocholl, she is stern and judgmental. She asks Thomas about his personal life and finds out that he’s a bachelor with no children . When she asks him, “What sort of Englishman would accept a post teaching Herr Hitler’s legal German girls?” Thomas tells her that his father is German. And it’s convenient that he’s bilingual because Thomas has been hired as the school’s English teacher.

Miss Rocholl admits to Thomas that the school needed to hire someone on short notice because Thomas’ predecessor turned out to be “unreliable.” She adds, “My girls need order. Next week, we present them to the Anglo-German fellowship.” Thomas doesn’t bother to ask her what happened to his predecessor, because he already knows that Wheatley has disappeared. Thomas and the rest of the school will eventually find out what happened to Wheatley.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” has some filler and predictable scenes that always seem to be in movies where one of the main locations is a school for teenagers. There’s the stereotypical “mean girl”/queen bee student, whose name is Astrid (played Maria Dragus). And there’s the socially awkward outcast student, whose name is Gretel (played by Tijan Marei). The rest of the students are written with indistinguishable personalities. And most of the students do not have any speaking lines in the movie.

Astrid and Gretel are written as such extreme opposites that their characters are almost caricatures. Astrid is the outgoing popular student who excels in athletics and academics. Gretel is the shy misfit who’s smart but she doesn’t know how to swim, which is the main physical sport that the students have at the school. Gretel often spends time by herself while the other students participate in athletic and social activities.

Astrid is the type of person who will smile in someone’s face and then make insulting remarks behind that person’s back. That’s what she does to Thomas on his first day on the job at Augusta-Victoria College. Astrid is the first student to welcome him in the class, but later on, Thomas overhears Astrid telling another student with a smirk that Thomas wouldn’t be considered “man enough” for the Fuhrer, in other words, Adolf Hitler.

Meanwhile, Thomas establishes a bit of a rapport with bashful and sensitive Gretel, because he can relate to feeling like an outsider in this stuffy and elitist environment. He notices that Gretel is frequently shunned by her classmates, so he occasionally gives her little pep talks. But Thomas’ interactions with the students are not shown very much because he’s got an ulterior motive for being at this school. It isn’t long before Thomas is snooping around because he was sent to Augusta-Victoria College to find out what happened to Wheatley.

The movie makes subtle and not-so-subtle references to Augusta-Victoria College being a school that taught Nazi propaganda. Thomas finds an Augusta-Victoria College school crest embroidered on a patch, which has a lion flanked by the United Kingdom flag on one side and a Nazi swastika on the other. (This movie uses the real-life Augusta-Victoria College crest.)

One day, Thomas walks by a classroom and sees Miss Rocholl and the students listening to a Hitler speech on the radio. To his surprise, Miss Rocholl joins the students in a Nazi salute while they chant “Sieg Heil!” At that moment, Miss Rocholl and Thomas make eye contact, and she can sense his disgust.

Later, in a private meeting between Miss Rocholl and Thomas, she tries to justify her apparent allegiance to the Nazis. Miss Rocholl has this to say about joining in on the “Sieg Heil” chant: “It means ‘Hail Victory.’ That’s all … Why should we criticize a country that strives to be great?”

Miss Rocholl then tries to appeal to Thomas’ empathetic side by telling him: “These girls are my life. They give me hope. And that’s why I join in when they say, ‘Hail Victory.'” In another part of the story, Miss Rocholl also says to Thomas that she wants to keep the girls as sheltered as possible from the outside world. Can you say “Nazi brainwashing school?”

And if it isn’t made clear enough that Augusta-Victoria College is a training ground for Hitler’s Nazi youth, there’s another scene where Thomas (who lurks quite a bit in the school hallways) walks by a classroom and sees Ilse pivoting a discussion with the students into an anti-Semitic lecture. Ilse starts off talking about how it’s hard to tell from appearances if someone is good or evil. Then she asks the students for examples of how to spot the differences between animals of the same species. And then she turns it into a discussion about how to find out the differences between Jews and Gentiles. The movie stops short of showing her going into details about how to identify Jewish people.

And what about Thomas’ spy mission? There are the predictable scenes of him hiding in places to eavesdrop on conversations. And don’t forget the formulaic scene of Thomas rifling through desk drawers and secretly photographing certain documents with a miniature camera that’s the same size as a modern-day flash drive.

The title of “Six Minutes to Midnight” comes from Thomas using the code 1154 (as in, 11:54 p.m.) to identify himself when he calls into spy headquarters. Technically, if he were using government time codes to signify “six minutes to midnight.” he should have used the digits 2354. But that’s the least of this movie’s problems with logic.

There’s also a fairly ludicrous scene of Thomas having a tension-filled meeting with his supervisor Colonel Smith (played David Schofield) at, of all places, a live comedy show. Let’s see: You’re an undercover spy who’s supposed to be having a secret conversation with your boss about a clandestine mission. And you think the best place to have this confidential conversation is in the audience of a show where you have to raise your voice in order to be heard because someone’s performing on stage while you’re talking. And you’re surrounded by people who could hear what you’re talking about in a theater that’s fairly dark, so you don’t really know who could be eavesdropping. Somewhere, James Bond is laughing.

The very talented Jim Broadbent is in the cast of “Six Minutes to Midnight,” but he’s barely in the movie. His scenes last for less than 10 minutes, thereby squandering Broadbent’s talent. It’s another reason why “Six Minutes to Midnight” is foolish and annoying. Broadbent portrays a friendly man named Charlie, the owner of a private bus service called Charlie Bus Hire. It’s a small business that seems to have only one bus, and Charlie is the driver.

Thomas and Charlie cross paths a few times in the movie when Thomas needs a bus ride to wherever he needs to go. The government didn’t provide a car for Thomas while he was undercover for this assignment, presumably to make his teacher impersonation more believable. A low-paid teacher wasn’t supposed to be able to afford a car in those days.

Charlie is the type of small role that should have gone to a lesser renowned actor. An actor of Broadbent’s caliber should have been showcased more in this movie. It’s disappointing to see Broadbent, who is capable of better and more substantial work, in such a poorly written role that reduces him to some wisecracking jokes that don’t land well at all.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” really falls off the rails when Thomas goes on the run after being accused of a murder he didn’t commit. One of the characters ends up getting shot in front of Thomas one rainy night. Viewers get to see who the shooter is, but Thomas doesn’t see the killer because it was raining so hard and he was in a car when it happened.

After the murder, the shooter ran away and dropped the gun, with the intent to frame Thomas for the murder. And sure enough, Thomas ran out of the car and picked up the gun, right at the same moment that a police officer arrived to see Thomas with blood on his clothes and holding the murder weapon. What a coincidence.

James D’Arcy has the role of Captain Drey, the law enforcement officer who’s in charge of investigating the murder. Captain Drey doesn’t believe Thomas’ proclamations of innocence. Thomas and Captain Drey have the expected personality clashes. And you easily can predict how this murder is going to affect Thomas’ ability to stay undercover as a spy.

Izzard seems to be trying earnestly to be an action hero, but it’s just not believable in the context of how ridiculously many of the scenes are staged. The shootout scenes lack credibility because “Six Minutes to Midnight” is one of those movies where people spend more time talking while they’re aiming their guns than actually shooting their targets. And get used to aerial shots of Izzard running away on a beach, because there’s plenty of that repetition in the movie.

As for Dench and Juri, they’ve played the same types of characters in other movies before: Dench as the no-nonsense taskmaster, Juri as the helpful assistant/sidekick. The acting from the cast members isn’t terrible, but there’s nothing extraordinary or noteworthy about it either. The character of Thomas is very hollow and uninteresting. It’s kind of mind-boggling that Izzard (one of the screenplay co-writers) couldn’t come up with a better character for this starring role.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” director/co-writer Goddard puts some effort into making the scenes try to look artistic. The big showdown at the end of the movie takes place on a beach at night. Some flare guns are used in this scene, to visually stunning results. But those are just superficial effects. The actual confrontation with weapons in this scene ends up being very dull and anti-climactic.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” has an almost flippant and dismissive attitude about the disturbing genocide and other mayhem caused by Nazis. The movie only wants to address the Nazis’ destruction in vague, abstract terms. The characters in the movie don’t really talk about why the United Kingdom is headed toward war with Nazi Germany. Instead, it becomes all about whether or not Thomas can prove his innocence in the murder case and what’s going to happen to the Augusta-Victoria College students.

This movie didn’t have to be a history lesson, but it’s very off-putting that all these characters in “Six Minutes to Midnight” who work for the British government won’t even acknowledge the suffering of the people who are the targets of Nazi hate. It might have been the filmmakers’ way of showing how people were in denial or willing to enable Nazi atrocities. But it’s a weak excuse when most of the main characters in the story are not ignorant citizens and they know exactly why Great Britain is going to war with Nazi Germany.

Simply put: “Six Minutes to Midnight” gives a much higher priority in trying to make viewers care about the comfort and well-being of Nazi youth and their British teachers than it does in trying to make viewers care about the people whose lives were destroyed by Nazis. It’s a completely tone-deaf movie that couldn’t even deliver a suspenseful mystery story. And in the end, “Six Minutes to Midnight” is a time-wasting film where the main characters don’t seem to have any emotional growth because they’re all so emotionally barren from the start.

Review: ‘Voyagers,’ starring Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead and Colin Farrell

April 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers”

Directed by Neil Burger

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in a spaceship from Earth, the sci-fi drama “Voyagers” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Asians and Latinos) who portray American scientists and crew members involved in exploring a new planet where human beings can possibly live.

Culture Clash: A power struggle erupts among the crew members, and it turns deadly.

Culture Audience: “Voyagers” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching derivative sci-fi movies that borrow heavily from dystopian young-adult novels with “survival of the fittest” themes.

Quintessa Swindell, Reda Elazouar, Fionn Whitehead, Archie Madekwe and Lou Llobel in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers” is a disappointing space travel movie that’s the equivalent of being stuck on a pointless road trip with bickering 20-somethings from a bad soap opera. “Voyagers” is not an adventure story about exploring a new planet. The movie is really about a group of young people isolated on a spaceship in a bland ripoff of “Lord of the Flies.” The cast members’ overall serviceable performances can’t quite save “Voyagers” from the movie’s annoying “bait and switch” in its story, which has too many plot holes and not enough originality for it to be a truly enjoyable film.

Written and directed by Neil Burger, “Voyagers” begins with a captioned intro that explains why this space voyage is taking place: “As the Earth grows hotter, and drought and disease ravage the population, scientists look for a new planet—one that can support human life. In 2063, they find it. The human voyage to the planet will take 86 years.” Although the movie never says which government is spearheading this voyage, viewers can assume it’s the United States because all of the people involved have American accents.

Leading this experimental voyage is a scientist named Richard (played by Colin Farrell), who tells people in a meeting that the plan is to have 30 qualified crew members—all who were born and bred to live on a spaceship. These crew members (who were born from artificial insemination) will have a pre-determined number of children and grandchildren during this 86-year journey in outer space. During this time, these voyagers and their descendants are supposed to learn enough about this new planet to return to Earth and bring back this knowledge so that other humans from Earth can possibly start relocating to this new planet.

From the start, there are some major problems with the story. Richard is the only person who’s shown interacting with and educating the children who were selected to be born and and bred for this program. He has been involved in raising them since birth. The movie should have had more scientists and government officials involved in this training. Just because “Voyagers” is a low-budget independent film is no excuse for this lack of credibility. If you can afford Colin Farrell to be in your movie, you can afford to hire some more cast members to portray the people training the children.

The children, who are in the same age group, are first seen as 4-year-olds in a sterile spaceship simulation environment where they are solving puzzles on computers. Richard interacts with them while wearing a hazmat suit. He is kind and patient with the kids, who have deliberately been raised indoors their entire life. The reason for always keeping the children indoors is because if the kids knew what it was like to be outdoors on Earth, it could have negative effects on their mental health if they knew what they were missing on Earth.

There’s a scene early in the movie that completely contradicts what happens later in the story. During a teaching session, all of the kids are happy to see Richard when he enters the room. Most of the kids run up to him and hug him, and he hugs them back. But later in the story, when the children begin the voyage when they’re 24 years old, they act as if they’ve never expressed public displays of affection before. It doesn’t ring true at all, but it’s the basis for a huge turning point in the movie.

Richard, who is a bachelor with no kids of his own, has grown attached to these children. He’s so attached that he wants to go with them on this voyage. His supervisor Marianne Sancar (played by Veronica Falcón) is very reluctant to allow it. However, Richard tells her that he really won’t miss living on Earth at all. And the next thing you know, Richard is the only adult over the age of 30 who’s with the crew members who were bred for this voyage. Once Richard and the crew members live on the spaceship, he no longer has to wear a hazmat suit when he’s around them.

Here’s another problematic part of the story: No government would realistically allow a bunch of 24-year-olds who don’t have any life experience outside of a spaceship environment to be on their own to explore a new planet. It’s what would have happened if Richard had not insisted on going on this voyage too. Any scientific exploration like this one would require people who would know what it’s like to live on Earth (indoors and outdoors), to make informed decisions on whether or not a new planet could be inhabitable by human beings whose biology was wired to live on Earth through centuries of evolution. It’s basic science for any scientific exploration to have that comparison point.

The “bait” part of “Voyagers” starts off misleading viewers into thinking that these young people, who’ve been trained specifically to explore this new planet, will get to do this exploring in the movie. But no, here comes the “switch” part of the movie: “Voyagers” has absolutely zero screen time of these so-called explorers doing any exploring. It’s not really spoiler information to reveal this fact about “Voyagers.” It’s a fair warning to viewers that this so-called “new planet” is never seen in the movie. Instead, “Voyagers” is essentially a predictable and often-dull soap opera on a spaceship.

Out of the 30 young people who are the crew members, three are the main focus of the story. It’s telegraphed early on that these three are the main characters, in a scene with the future voyagers as 4-year-olds. They are the only three characters Richard is shown tucking into bed and calling them by their names when he says good night to them.

The three main characters at 24 years old are:

  • Christopher (played by Tye Sheridan), who is even-tempered and analytical.
  • Sela (played by Lily-Rose Depp), who is the group’s assertive and intelligent chief medical officer.
  • Zac (played by Fionn Whitehead), who is the group’s rebellious chief surveillance officer.

And because “Voyagers” is really a soap opera in space, you know what that means: love triangle. There are some other crew members whose personalities are given some notable screen time. They include:

  • Kai (played by Archie Madekwe), a mischief maker who likes breaking the rules.
  • Julie (played by Quintessa Swindell), a flirtatious engineer who has a mutual attraction to Kai.
  • Peter (played by Viveik Kalra), who becomes a rival to Kai for Julie’s affections.
  • Phoebe (played by Chanté Adams), who is the group member most likely to stick to the rules and protocol.
  • Edward (played by Isaac Hempstead Wright), a nerdy control room officer who’s the most “book smart” one in the group.
  • Anda (played by Madison Hu), a level-headed type who is good at negotiating.

All of the crew members except Richard are given a blue liquid called (unimaginatively) The Blue as part of their dining routine. Christopher finds out through some computer hacking that The Blue is really a drug that dulls human senses. It contains a toxin called T56j, which makes people docile and eliminates sexual desire and other sensual urges.

Zac is with Christopher when this information is discovered. Christopher then confronts Richard about it. Richard admits that The Blue is a medication that was given to the crew members to make them less likely to rebel or get distracted.

It’s also explained in the movie that the outer-space program doesn’t want the crew members to conceive children naturally. All conceptions are supposed to be by artificial insemination. It’s been pre-determined how many children and grandchildren each voyager will have, in order to prevent over-population.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t sit too well with Christopher and Zac to find out that their lives have been strictly controlled and manipulated by being given The Blue drug without their knowledge and consent. They decide to stop taking The Blue. And eventually, Christopher and Zac tell some other crew members that The Blue is really a drug to keep them complacent. And, of course, the word gets out to everyone else, and they also stop drinking The Blue.

Remember that scene of the cute and cuddly kids running up to Richard and hugging him? Well, the filmmakers of “Voyagers” want people to forget that scene, because (plot hole alert) they want viewers to think that these kids have now grown up to be people who don’t know what it’s like to express affection. It’s unclear how long the voyagers were taking The Blue, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not a drug that causes amnesia where they would forget childhood memories.

There’s a scene on the spaceship where Christopher sees Richard and Sela talking, and Richard has his hand affectionately on Sela’s shoulder, like a father would for a daughter. Christopher gets a little freaked out and acts as if Richard is one step away from being a sexual predator because Christopher can’t believe that someone is actually touching Sela in this way. When Christopher asks Sela in private if there’s anything inappropriate going on between her and Richard, she denies it, but Christopher doesn’t look completely convinced. It’s all just sloppy and contradictory screenwriting.

Keep in mind, these voyagers are the same people who, when they were children, were jumping up and hugging Richard and letting him tuck them into bed. It’s quite an unrealistic stretch that Christopher, now in his 20s, would suddenly act like he’s never seen Richard touch Sela in a fatherly way before, when Richard is essentially the only father these kids have ever known. By the way, this movie never shows the young voyagers being curious about who their biological parents are, even though Christopher mentions in a conversation that they’ve inherited physical and personality traits from their unknown parents.

After certain characters in “Voyagers” stop taking The Blue, the movie makes a big deal of showing them acting out as they lose their inhibitions. For Zac, that means a touch can’t just be a touch. When he touches Sela’s face affectionately, it quickly turns into fondling her breasts without consent. Zac and Christopher suddenly get the urge to wrestle each other a lot. And there are multiple scenes of the crew members running playfully through hallways, as if they’ve never done it before in their lives.

Through a series of circumstances, the voyagers also learn about violence. And the rest of the movie plays out as predictably as you think it would. Christopher and Zac go from being friends to being bitter enemies. And in true “Lord of the Flies” fashion, people take sides, and there’s a battle over who’s going to be in power.

And what about the mission to explore this new planet? That gets lost in the arguing and fights that take up almost all of the last third of the movie. And there’s some nonsense about a possible alien that’s invaded the ship, which is a fear that Zac uses to manipulate people to do what he wants.

While all of this childish drama is going on, no one seems to be operating the spaceship. It must be on auto-pilot, just like this formulaic, substandard sci-fi flick is on auto-pilot for almost its entire duration. Out of all the actors portraying the young voyagers, Whitehead seems to be the one having the most fun (probably because he’s playing a villain role), and he smirks it up to the hilt.

Unfortunately, the scenes in the movie where the voyagers have been taking The Blue drug require them to talk in almost-robotic monotones. And so, there are long stretches of “Voyagers” that are quite boring because the actors are supposed to be portraying “numb” people. Richard is the only character on the spaceship who maintains a strong sense of lucid humanity, but the power structure ends up changing on the spaceship, so Richard isn’t in the movie as much as some viewers might think he would be.

The cinematography and visual effects for “Voyagers” aren’t terrible but they’re not outstanding either. The movie’s production design for the spaceship isn’t entirely convincing. The interior rooms often just look like a shiny, sterile cafeteria, office building, or lounge space. There aren’t many exterior scenes in the movie because the voyagers spend more time quarreling or goofing off inside than actually working outside.

You know that “Voyagers” is a terrible sci-fi movie because it cares so little about this mission to explore a new planet. Not once do any of the voyagers talk about any hopes or fears that they have about what they might find on this new planet. You’d think that people who were raised to be these pioneering explorers would be curious. But no, not in this movie. “Voyagers,” just like the space mission in the movie, was badly conceived from the start and should have been aborted.

Lionsgate released “Voyagers” in U.S. cinemas on April 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Gunda,’ a documentary about farm life from the perspectives of animals

April 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Gunda and one of her piglets in “Gunda” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Gunda”

Directed by Victor Kosakovsky

Culture Representation: Taking place on a farm in an unnamed Norwegian city, the documentary film “Gunda” focuses on a sow (female pig) named Gunda, her piglets, a flock of chickens and a herd of cows.

Culture Clash: Farm life can be precarious for animals that are bred as meat for humans.

Culture Audience: “Gunda” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a minimalist animal documentary, with no voiceover narration, captions or music.

Two of Gunda’s piglets in “Gunda” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Neither brilliant nor mindless, the documentary film “Gunda” is a minimalist chronicle of animal life on a Norwegian farm in an unnamed city, from the perspectives of some of the animals. The movie was filmed in black and white, so it looks artsier than it really is. “Gunda is best enjoyed by people who are inclined to like animal documentaries.

Directed by Victor Kosakovsky, “Gunda” stands out from most other animal documentaries because it has no voiceover narration, captions or music. Therefore, whatever viewers get out of the movie will be exactly what’s shown on screen, not because the filmmakers are interpreting or explaining the animals’ actions. Any humans who are briefly shown in the documentary (to transport animals) do not speak in the movie.

A female pig named Gunda gets most of the screen time because it shows her from the moment she gives birth to a litter of about 11 pigs. (The documentary’s other animals don’t have names in the movie.) The first scene in the movie is of Gunda giving birth to this litter. Not long after she gives birth, Gunda accidentally steps on one of the piglets, which screams out in pain but is unharmed.

In addition to the pigs, the movie shows two cows and some chickens, with particular focus on a one-legged chicken. An example of a scene involving the chickens is when a chicken tentatively steps out of a cage, where it was confined with other chickens. There are closeups of the chicken’s feet as it steps on the grass. A visually striking scene with the cows is when at least 25 cows run outside of a barn, and this gallop is shown in slow-motion. The cows are also shown outside while it’s raining.

Viewers of “Gunda,” which was filmed for less than a year, get to see the piglets grow older. There are multiple scenes of Gunda nursing them. There’s a scene where the piglets go in an open field to play and rough house with each other. And there’s the inevitable scene of Gunda wallowing and resting in mud.

Because this movie takes place on a farm, not an animal sanctuary, these animals are being raised for one main reason: as meat for humans. One of the exceptions is an elderly female cow that’s shown in the documentary. Because there are no humans talking in the movie, it’s never explained why this female cow was lucky enough to survive and wasn’t killed for meat.

“Gunda” director Kosakovsky was inspired to make the film because of an experience he had in his childhood. He describes it in his director’s statement in the “Gunda” production notes: “Growing up I was very much a city kid, but at the age of 4, I spent a few months in a village in the countryside, where I met my best friend Vasya. He was much younger than me—just a few weeks old when we met—but over time he became my dearest friend and the times we spent together are some of the most cherished memories from my childhood. One day, when we were still young, Vasya was killed and served as pork cutlets for a New Year’s Eve dinner. I was devastated and immediately became (probably) the first vegetarian kid in the Soviet Union.”

It should be noted that Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix, who is a well-known vegan and animal rights activist, is an executive producer of “Gunda.” Is the movie a vegetarian/vegan propaganda film? No, because it doesn’t preach about how these animals should be treated. It just shows a “slice of life” view of what it was like for these particular animals on this particular farm.

In that sense, “Gunda” is like any other documentary about farm animals that will give people more thought about animals that are killed for human consumption. Almost every up-close documentary about animals will show that animals have emotions and form family bonds with each other. It’s not revelatory to anyone who’s seen a lot of animal documentaries or has experienced living with domesticated animals.

“Gunda” is at its best when it shows the relationship that Gunda has with her piglets. The cinematography brings an intimacy to how this relationship evolves as the piglets become more independent. The ending of the movie is not surprising, but it will still tug at people’s heartstrings.

If “Gunda” could be described in terms of independent cinema, it’s the type of movie that’s like a mumblecore documentary for farm animals. There’s no specific, exciting narrative, because viewers are basically watching farm animals live their lives. It’s the type of movie best appreciated if viewers have no distractions and can see the movie on the largest screen possible. It’s hard to imagine “Gunda” holding people’s interest for very long if they watch the movie on a phone.

“Gunda” also isn’t recommended for people who get irritated by constant sounds of pigs grunting and squealing. It’s sounds obvious that you’ll hear these noises when watching this movie, but without any music to drown out the animal sounds or to manipulate emotions, the sounds of pig grunts and squeals become even more pronounced. People will either tolerate it or be turned off by it.

As a technical feat, “Gunda” isn’t very mindblowing, but it gets the job done in all the right places. This is a movie that might bore people who prefer animal documentaries that were filmed in exotic and difficult-to-film locations. But for people who want an intimate look at the common ground between the emotions in animals and humans, “Gunda” offers an immersive experience that requires patience to watch the entire movie.

Neon released “Gunda” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on December 11, 2020. The movie goes into wider release on April 16, 2021.

True Crime Entertainment: What’s New This Week

The following content is generally available worldwide, except where otherwise noted. All TV shows listed are for networks and streaming services based in the United States. All movies listed are those released in U.S. cinemas. This schedule is for content and events premiering this week and does not include content that has already been made available.

Monday, April 12 – Sunday, April 18

TV/Streaming Services

All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.

Starz’s limited series “Confronting a Serial Killer” premieres on Sunday, April 18, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Monday, April 12

“Forensic Factor”
“The Colchester Rapist”
Monday, April 12, 10 a.m., A&E

“Forensic Factor”
“Atomic Dog”
Monday, April 12, 11 a.m., A&E

“Forensic Factor”
“Eclectic Matter”
Monday, April 12, 12 p.m., A&E

“Forensic Factor”
“Dead Man’s Hallow”
Monday, April 12, 1 p.m., A&E

“Forensic Factor”
“To Catch a Killer”
Monday, April 12, 2 p.m., A&E

“The Mark of a Killer”
“The I-40 Killer”
Monday, April 12, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“America’s Most Wanted”
“Maurice Nesbitt, Josephine Overaker and Frederick Arias” (Episode 2605) **Season Finale**
Monday, April 12, 9 p.m., Fox

“Pray, Obey, Kill”
“Where Truth Lies” (Episode 101) 
Monday, April 12, 9 p.m., HBO

“Fatal Attraction”
“Double Devastation” (Episode 1104) 
Monday, April 12, 9 p.m., TV One

“American Greed: Bonus Edition”
“The Playboy of Indiana”
Monday, April 12, 9 p.m., CNBC

“Pray, Obey, Kill”
“Dying Is Not So Bad” (Episode 102) 
Monday, April 12, 9 p.m., HBO

“People Magazine Investigates”
“The Delphi Killer” (Episode 504)
Monday, April 12, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Tuesday, April 13

“The Mark of a Killer”
“The I-95 Killer”
Monday, April 13, 8 p.m., Oxygen

Wednesday, April 14

“Why Did You Kill Me?” (Documentary Film)
Wednesday, April 14, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Netflix

“Mark of a Killer”
“The Charmer” (Episode 303)
Wednesday, April 14, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Living With a Serial Killer”
“The Black Widow’s Web: Joanne Dennehy” (Episode 101) **Season Premiere**
Wednesday, April 14, 9 p.m., Oxygen

“Court Cam”
(Episode 329)
Wednesday, April 14, 9 p.m., A&E

“Court Cam”
“Top Five Outrageous Escapes 2”
Wednesday, April 14, 9:30 p.m., A&E

“I Survived a Crime”
Episode 117
Wednesday, April 14, 10 p.m., A&E

“I Survived a Crime”
Episode 120
Wednesday, April 14, 10:30 p.m., A&E

Thursday, April 15

“The Deadly Type With Candice DeLong”
“The Survivor” (Episode 109)
Thursday, April 15, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Discovery+

“Mark of a Killer”
“The Englewood Killer” (Episode 304)
Thursday, April 15, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Living With a Serial Killer”
“Scotland’s Worst Predator: Peter Tobin”
Thursday, April 15, 9 p.m., Oxygen

“The First 48”
“The Bad Cinderella” (Episode 448)
Thursday, April 15, 9 p.m., A&E

“For My Man”
“Unholy Matrimony (Shavonne Carter)” (Episode 617)
Thursday, April 15, 9 p.m., TV One

“A Time to Kill”
“What Happened to Lauren?” (Episode 207)
Thursday, April 15, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Friday, April 16

“Mark of a Killer”
“Classified to Kill” (Episode 305) **Season Finale**
Friday, April 16, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Living With a Serial Killer”
“The Suffolk Strangler: Steve Wright” **Season Finale**
Friday, April 16, 9 p.m., Oxygen

“Dateline”
“The Phone Call”
Friday, April 16, 9 p.m., NBC

“20/20”
“Mark Winger and Rebecca Simic”
Friday, April 16, 10 p.m., ABC

Saturday, April 17

“Murders at the Boarding House”
Part One **Series Premiere**
Saturday, April 16, 7 p.m., Oxygen

“Accident, Suicide or Murder?”
“Dark Echoes” (Episode 301) **Season Premiere**
Saturday, April 16, 8:30 p.m., Oxygen

“48 Hours”
TBA
Saturday, April 17, 10 p.m., CBS

Sunday, April 18

“Evil Lives Here: Shadows of Death”
“The Bathtub” (Episode 202)
Sunday, April 18, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Discovery+

“Snapped”
“Gail Gash” (Episode 2903)
Sunday, April 18, 6 p.m., Oxygen

“Murders at the Boarding House”
Part Two **Series Finale**
Sunday, April 18, 7 p.m., Oxygen

“Mastermind of Murder”
“Victims Wanted” **Series Premiere**
Sunday, April 18, 8:30 p.m., Oxygen

“Confronting a Serial Killer”
“Getting Away With Murders” (Episode 101) **Series Premiere**
Sunday, April 18, 9 p.m., Starz

“How It Really Happened With Hill Harper”
“The Jenny Jones Show: Fatal Attraction” (Episode 609) **Season Finale**
Sunday, April 18, 9 p.m., HLN

“The People v. The Klan”
“Hate on Trial” (Episode 103)
Sunday, April 18, 9 p.m., CNN

“The People v. The Klan”
“It Takes a Mother” (Episode 104) **Series Finale**
Sunday, April 18, 10 p.m., CNN

“On the Case With Paula Zahn”
“A Blue Raincoat” (Episode 2203)
Sunday, April 18, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Movie Theaters and Home Video

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some movie theaters in the U.S. are closed until further notice. Some independent movie theaters that are physically closed are showing new movies online, as part of a “virtual cinema” program. 

No true crime movies premiering in theaters and home video this week.

Radio/Podcasts

Killer Role

Premiere date: Tuesday, April 13

Description from NBC:

“Dateline NBC” correspondent Keith Morrison will host Killer Role, an all-new true-crime “Dateline” podcast debuting Tuesday, April 13. The six-episode series features Morrison’s years-long reporting on the story of Wyn Reed, an Oregon actress cast as a killer in a small-budget horror film. When filming wraps, a real-life plot twist reveals Wyn’s real name is Tucker – and she has been charged in the killing of her uncle. Both the filmmakers and the detectives find themselves wondering where performance ends and reality begins.      

The first two episodes of Killer Role, produced by “Dateline” and NBC News in partnership with Neon Hum, will be available for download and streaming on any podcast platform on April 13, with the following four episodes debuting over the next three weeks.

Killer Role is produced by “Dateline” and NBC News. At “Dateline,” Vincent Sturla is the producer, Linda Zhang is the associate producer. Susan Nalle oversees digital programming, Joe Delmonico is the senior producer and Adam Gorfain is the co-executive producer. Liz Cole is the executive producer and David Corvo is the senior executive producer. From Neon Hum, Samantha Allison is the supervising producer, Chrystal Genesis and Alex Schuman are producers. Liz Sanchez and Evan Jacoby are associate producers. Jonathan Hirsch is the executive producer. Mixing and sound design from Scott Sommerville. Theme music by Andrew Eapen.

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